NCC this week joined nearly 90 federal and state agriculture, transportation, and infrastructure associations in a letter to EPA requesting that the agency deny California’s plan to issue regulations that would require the use of zero-emission locomotives by 2030 in the state.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) recently requested that the EPA allow CARB to issue regulations that would target key aspects of the operation of freight locomotives in California. The proposed regulations would:

  1. Require the decommission of locomotives 23 years or older beginning in 2030 and require that new switch, industrial (used by rail customers) and passenger locomotives operate in zero-emission configuration (2035 for new line haul locomotives);
  2. Attempt to regulate locomotive emissions by requiring railroads to shut them down when in transit in certain circumstances;
  3. Levy annual fees on rail carriers for deposit in accounts that can only be used to comply with the regulations; and
  4. Impose certain reporting and “administrative payments.”

“If the CARB regulations were authorized by EPA,” the letter said, “we believe freight rail carriers and their rail customers would be significantly hindered financially and operationally. The inevitable increases in transportation costs and introduction of operational inefficiencies for agricultural shippers and receivers would result in food price inflation. … The proposed rules would require railroads and rail customers to meet regulatory goals that cannot be reached. Specifically, zero emissions locomotives would have to be purchased to replace the decommissioned locomotives, but such locomotives are not yet commercially viable and won’t be in the foreseeable future. Presumably, battery technology would need to be utilized to meet the zero-emission requirement. While battery powered locomotives have been tested, they are not presently commercially viable primarily due to a limited operating range.”

The letter also expressed support for pending legal challenges to the rules filed by the Association of American Railroads and the American Short Line and Regional Rail Association, which are in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. The challenge contends that CARB’s proposed regulations are preempted by existing federal law that gives the Surface Transportation Board (STB) exclusive jurisdiction over the operations and other activities of freight railroads in interstate commerce. The court affirmed the legitimacy of the railroads’ preemption arguments in an order issued on February 16, 2024.

In addition to dozens of national and state associations, the California Poultry Federation and Pacific Egg & Poultry Association also joined the letter.

The full letter can be found here.