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CA Enviros Go After Trains, CRF Responds

Earlier this week, it was reported in the press that California has another target for its green lunacy: railroads. The CPAC Foundation's Center for Regulatory Freedom was on top of the issue and filed comments with the EPA.

To summarize the situation, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) submitted a request for authorization to enforce its In-Use Locomotive Regulation, aiming to "revolutionize" the locomotive industry within the state by imposing zero-emission standards by 2030. This ambitious directive mandates that all locomotives be no older than 23 years and operate entirely emission-free. Regardless of the intentions behind this proposal, the practical implications could spell disaster for the uniformity and functionality of the United States' railway systems.

The Impracticalities of Zero-Emission Locomotives

In our comments, CRF argues that the zero-emission goal set by CARB is currently unattainable with existing technology. Locomotives that meet these standards simply do not exist in the U.S. market today, and the requirement for operators to allocate substantial funds annually towards zero-emission equipment seems both premature and financially burdensome.

The costs projected for large and small rail operators are staggering, potentially reaching into the billions annually, diverting crucial funds from safety and operational efficiency improvements. Furthermore, the required overhaul of the American electrical grid to support such a fleet underscores the enormity of this undertaking, suggesting a fundamental mismatch between CARB's aspirations and the current technological landscape.

Threats to National Railway Uniformity, Constitutional and Legal Concerns

Beyond the technological and financial hurdles, CARB's proposal threatens the necessary uniformity of U.S. railways. If California's request is granted, it could set a precedent that allows for a patchwork of state-specific regulations that disrupt national standards set by federal law. Such a scenario would not only complicate logistics but also increase operational costs significantly, which would likely be passed on to consumers. This is not just a challenge of logistics but of legal precedence as well, potentially conflicting with the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The proposal also raises other significant constitutional questions. The Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA) frames a clear argument against CARB's regulations. The ICCTA provides exclusive federal oversight of railway operations, which would preempt state laws like those proposed by CARB. Moreover, accepting CARB's rules could violate the Dormant Commerce Clause by allowing California to impose its regulatory standards on interstate commerce, effectively dictating national commerce policies through state-specific legislation.

A Call for EPA’s Consideration

In light of these considerations, CRF urged EPA to reject California’s waiver request. Granting such a waiver would not only acknowledge an impractical and legally dubious regulatory approach but could also set a dangerous precedent affecting the fundamental principles of federal oversight in interstate commerce. The risks associated with disrupting the national railway system's uniformity, potentially inflating costs, and undermining proven emissions reduction strategies are too great to overlook.

In this pivotal moment, the EPA's decision could dictate the future not just of California's railways but of the entire nation's railway system. It is imperative that regulatory actions are grounded in feasibility and federal consistency to protect the interests of all stakeholders involved.


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