Ricketts Leads Bipartisan Letter to EPA: California Railroad Waiver Would Devastate the Rail Industry & Economy as a Whole

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Pete Ricketts led a bipartisan group of colleagues in a letter to Michael Regan, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), opposing a rule from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) that would devastate the rail industry, jeopardize supply chains, and harm our economy.

“Attempts to create state-specific operational rules, such as those envisioned by CARB, would jeopardize the interoperability of the national network and would threaten the overall health of the supply chain,” wrote the senators. “CARB has stated its goal is to force the railroads to convert their national fleets to the currently unavailable and untested zero-emission locomotives. The CAA does not grant EPA the authority to allow states to mandate specifications for the design and manufacture of locomotives – which is precisely what CARB seeks in its authorization request.”

“If the EPA were to approve CARB’s authorization request, the results would be devastating for the rail industry and, subsequently, the economy as a whole..” wrote the senators. “In addition, the financial strain the spending account requirement of the Regulation would place on railroads could be multiplied across each other state that chooses to adopt the Regulation. Finally, the EPA’s actions could jeopardize the supply chain by forcing railroads to utilize largely unproven technology to power the locomotives.”

In addition to Ricketts, other signatories include Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Joe Manchin (D-WV), John Boozman (R-AR), Mike Braun (R-IN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Deb Fischer (R-NE), John Hoeven (R-ND), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Roger Marshall (R-KS), and Roger Wicker (R-MS).

The letter is supported by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA).

“Rail is already a solution to reducing transportation emissions,” said AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies. “Despite significant progress and railroad investment to advance zero-emissions technologies, there are no commercially viable options today – and they cannot simply be willed into existence by the state of California. If allowed to proceed, the CARB rule stands to upend rail operations across the interconnected national network without resulting in any actual emissions reductions.”

“We commend Sen. Ricketts and his colleagues for their important leadership on this issue,” said ASLRRA President Chuck Baker. “Their letter conveys a fundamental message to EPA:  the federal government must stop California’s misguided measure in its tracks. This state-level mandate requires small railroads to pay draconian compliance costs, discard useful and practical locomotives decades before the end of their useful lives, and acquire new locomotives that are not yet commercially viable in order to meet completely arbitrary deadlines. CARB’s rule will be the death knell for small railroads in California if it’s allowed to proceed, and if other states follow this clearly illegal rulemaking, small railroads nationwide will shutter, crippling the country’s supply chain and increasing congestion and air pollution on the nation’s highways – ironically, exactly what CARB claims it wants to curtail.”


At the end of last year, EPA finalized a rule which rolls back state preemption of in-use locomotives and opens the door to the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) waiver for strict regulations on in-use locomotive emissions. In section 209(e) of the Clean Air Act, Congress preempted state and local governments from adopting or enforcing “any standard or other requirement relating to the control of emissions from... new locomotives or new engines used in locomotives.” In 1998, EPA established regulations that implement this preemption consistent with Congressional intent to prevent unreasonable burdens on interstate commerce. Given the nature of locomotive remanufacturing, EPA is defining “new locomotives and new engines used in locomotives” to include existing locomotives when they are remanufactured. 

The In-Use Locomotive Regulation would prohibit the operation of locomotives in California more than 23 years after manufacture unless those locomotives operated in a zero-emissions configuration. This technology is not commercially available today. As a result, the regulation would impose significant operational and financial burdens on freight railroads operating in California, including both Class I’s and short line railroads.