(June 29, 2005) -- Warning of a "potential adverse impact on initiatives to clean the air at the federal, state and local levels," the South Coast Air Quality Management District's governing board chair has blasted an agreement ("Memorandum of Understanding" or MOU) reached between staff of the CA Air Resources Board (ARB) and two railroads (BNSF and Santa Fe) and seeks a public hearing on the matter...and indicated that state lawmakers may be contemplating holding their own hearing to look into what took place.
"I have learned that the public, including our agency, has not been consulted in any way regarding the contents of the MOU," writes AQMD Board chair Dr. William Burke in a letter to CA ARB acting board chair Barbara Riordan, cc'd to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, CalEPA director Alan Lloyd and CA ARB's board members. AQMD board chair Burke's letter says that a "cursory review of the [CA ARB] document [MOU] by our [AQMD] staff indicates numerous potential deficiencies, which undermine the enforceability of the agreement, existing law, and newly proposed legislative and regulatory initiatives."
CA ARB's agreement with the railroads was announced on June 24 -- the same day that a Task Force appointed by (now-outgoing) L.A. Mayor James Hahn delivered a report showing how the Port of Los Angeles could roll back Port related air pollutants to 2001 levels, with numerous caveats, by roughly 2008 by implementing a complex matrix of measures...including measures to be taken by railroads. Critics of the CA ARB MOU say it could undermine "no net increase" Task Force recommendations. (The Port of LB chose not to participate substantively in L.A.'s "no net increase" Task Force; the PoLB's Board of Harbor Commissioners has approved a "Green Port" resolution...but it doesn't commit to maintain or decrease air pollutants and allows for their increase.)
CA ARB says in a written release that its MOU "obligates the railroads to significantly reduce diesel emissions in and around rail yards in California" and includes an "idling-reduction program" to eliminate all non-essential idling with anti-idling devices and operational changes; health risk assessments for all major rail yards within 30 months to quantify the localized risks from each yard and enable further mitigation; community and air district involvement in the preparation of risk assessments; enforcement of MOU provisions, and evaluation and development of measures to further reduce impacts on local communities.
Other actions described in the agreement include maximum use of state or federal low sulfur diesel in locomotives fueled in CA six years earlier than federal regulations require; a statewide visible emissions reduction and repair program to ensure the incidence of smoking locomotives to less than one percent with repairs within 96 hours; detailed evaluation of advanced control measures that can reduce diesel particulate emissions by 90 percent from uncontrolled levels for applicable locomotives; and assessment of remote sensing technology to identify high emitting locomotives.
In a CA ARB release, CA ARB Executive Officer Catherine Witherspoon said, "This agreement will allow us to achieve greater emission reductions in a shorter period of time than would have been possible through any other process."
Railroad reps were similarly pleased by CA ARB's action. "This agreement represents real progress reached as a result of a progressive partnership between California and BNSF Railway," said Mark Stehly, BNSF's Assistant Vice President, Technical Research, Environment and Development in the CA ARB rellease. "We've worked hard with the Air Board to craft a strong program that responds to community concerns about yard operations and reflects our continuing commitment to invest in clean air for California communities," he said.
"Rail is by far the most environmentally friendly method of transporting freight. Over the past several years, Union Pacific has made significant progress in modifying our operations to reduce emissions," said Robert Grimaila, Union Pacific's vice president of Environmental and Safety. "This agreement with CARB will build upon this progress - including what we've learned in the last eight months from our aggressive work in Roseville - to maintain our role as an environmental leader in the transportation industry."
AQMD chairman Burke's letter says AQMD's concerns about the state agency's agreement with the railroads "are shared by a broad cross-section of stakeholders" and "[m]embers of the Legislature are even contemplating a hearing" on the CA ARB RR MOU and its approval.
[I]t is...surprising that such a document could be executed by staff, without [CA ARB] Governing Board review. Dr. Burke adds.
The CA ARB was created by the state legislature in 1967 and consists of eleven members appointed by the Governor. Five are experts in fields such as medicine, chemistry, physics, meteorology, engineering, business, and law; five others are elected officials who represent regional air pollution control agencies (one each from the L.A., SF, SD and San Joaquin Valley, and one represents the other districts; the chair is the only full-time member.
On June 28, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his choice to chair the CA ARB: Cindy Tuck,, listed as a registered lobbyist and General Counsel for the "Calilifornia Council for Environmental and Economic Balance."
AQMD Board chair Burke's letter to CA ARB acting board chair Riordan follows:
June 28, 2005
Barbara Riordan, Acting Chair
California Air Resources Board
1001 I Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
Re: ARB/Railroad Statewide Agreement
Our agency received a copy of the new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between CARB staff, BNSF Railway Company, and Union Pacific Railroad Company last Friday, upon public release. I have learned that the public, including our agency, has not been consulted in any way regarding the contents of the MOU. Given its potential adverse impact on initiatives to clean the air at the federal, state and local levels, I am surprised at the lack of public opportunity to discuss its contents. Moreover, it is equally surprising that such a document could be executed by staff, without Governing Board review.
A cursory review of the document by our staff indicates numerous potential deficiencies, which undermine the enforceability of the agreement, existing law, and newly proposed legislative and regulatory initiatives. Our concerns are shared by a broad cross-section of stakeholders. Members of the Legislature are even contemplating a hearing on the MOU and its approval process.
Therefore, I am requesting the following action by the CARB Board: Delay implementation of the MOU until the CARB Board can conduct a public hearing regarding its contents, consider comments and concerns, and modify the MOU as appropriate. Since the agreement does not take effect until June 30th, there is an opportunity for your agency to correct the current situation, and provide for an open and transparent process that is better representative of government at its best. I also believe that such action would be consistent with CARB and CalEPA’s stated Environmental Justice goals.
I would appreciate your immediate attention to this matter.
William A. Burke, Chairman
Cc: Governor Schwarzenegger
CARB Board Members