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Ag groups oppose California's zero-emissions locomotive plan

The NGFA and other groups, has requested the EPA to reject California's rule due to potential disruptions to U.S. agriculture.

Railroad Track Crossing Pixabay

The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) along with other members of the Agricultural Transportation Working Group has formally requested the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan to reject the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) proposal for imposing zero emissions standards on freight locomotives in California. In a letter dated April 5, the groups argue that CARB’s proposed regulations could significantly disrupt the U.S. agriculture sector and the broader supply chain.

CARB’s "In-Use Locomotive Regulation" seeks to enforce a mandate where, by 2030, only zero-emissions locomotives would be permitted to operate in California. Furthermore, starting July 1, 2026, rail companies in the state would have to contribute annually to a fund based on their emissions in the previous calendar year.

The NGFA and its allies believe that if the EPA authorizes these CARB regulations, it would severely impact freight rail carriers and their customers, both financially and operationally. They warn of an inevitable rise in transportation costs and the introduction of operational inefficiencies for agricultural shippers and receivers, potentially leading to an increase in food prices.

A major concern highlighted in the letter is the current unavailability of viable zero emissions locomotives. Although there have been limited demonstrations of battery-powered locomotives, their commercial viability is questionable due to limited operating range and battery capacity issues.

Key aspects of the proposed regulations include annual fees levied on rail carriers, a requirement to decommission older locomotives from 2030, and mandates for new locomotives to operate in zero-emission configurations from 2035. The regulations also propose controlling emissions by requiring railroads to shut down locomotives in transit under certain conditions, alongside imposing significant reporting requirements and administrative payments.

The Association of American Railroads and the American Short Line and Regional Rail Association are challenging these rules in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. They argue that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act gives the Surface Transportation Board exclusive jurisdiction over interstate freight rail operations, effectively preempting CARB’s regulations. This viewpoint was supported in a court order issued on February 16.

The deadline for public comments on the proposal is set for April 22, as the EPA deliberates on the matter.

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