UE Members: New Locomotive Emission Rules Will Clean Up Rail Yards, Create Jobs

June 21, 2023

Over the past month and a half, UE members from Pennsylvania, Illinois, and California have spoken out in favor of proposed new Environmental Protection Agency rules on locomotive emissions. The new rules would improve air quality for rail yard workers, including hundreds of UE members who work as rail crew drivers, and the working-class communities surrounding rail yards. They would also help create good, union jobs.

“It makes me angry to know that the technology exists to make the air in and around these rail yards cleaner, but it’s not being used,” Local 1177 President and Western Region Vice President Larry Hopkins told the EPA during an online hearing on May 2. Local 1177 represents more than 600 drivers who, like Hopkins, work in rail yards, driving rail crews to and from their hotels at the beginning and end of their shifts.

Local 1177 Recording Secretary Cedric Whelchel told the EPA, “I spend a lot of time waiting near these idling diesel locomotive engines. For me, this is all about safety and health. I know when I am at work this pollution is affecting my breathing. I can feel it, and I am not the only one. We have a lot of drivers who have health problems.”

Hopkins also pointed out that, in addition to being exposed to diesel emissions at work, the Chicago neighborhood he lives in is surrounded by six different rail yards. He called the diesel emissions from those yards a “safety hazard” for him and his neighbors. “We have got to make these railroads clean up their act,” he said.

Local 506 President Scott Slawson, whose local represents 1400 production workers at the Wabtec locomotive plant in Erie, PA, testified that “We are in full support of the EPA’s proposed rulemaking allowing states to set stricter emission standards for diesel-powered locomotives.” He noted that members of Local 506 make “the cleanest, most fuel-efficient locomotives in the country” — the “green locomotives” that railroads would need to purchase in order to meet stricter emission standards.

“Our local union recently worked with economists at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst to do a study of the economic impact of increased purchases of green locomotives,” he continued. “That study found that building the green locomotives that our country clearly needs would create between six and ten thousand jobs in and around Erie, and an additional three to five thousand jobs elsewhere in the country. And the jobs in our plant are good jobs, with family-supporting wages.”

“When you consider the economic impact of this rule,” Slawson concluded, “I ask you to consider which is more important to the American economy: the profits that the railroads funnel to Wall Street, or the livelihoods of American workers?”

The rule currently being considered by the EPA would allow states to enact stricter standards for emissions from locomotives — something the state of California has already moved towards. On April 27, the state’s Air Resources Board approved new regulations to reduce emissions from diesel locomotives and increase the use of zero-emissions technology.

Those new regulations will directly benefit UE Local 1077 member Lauren Sims, a rail crew driver in Wilmington, CA. In written testimony submitted to the EPA in June, Sims explained how diesel emissions affect her and her family.

“My son started having his asthma symptoms almost as soon as I brought him home,” she wrote. “He’s had to take medicine, have inhalers and breathing treatments his whole life.”

Sims is also affected at work. “The smoke from the trains when it comes out, you can see it. You can see the smoke and smell it too. I get light-headed when I have to be parked next to the train engines. Even with windows rolled up, the fumes still come through the vents.”

UE Secretary-Treasurer Andrew Dinkelaker gave testimony on behalf of the National Union. “The proposed EPA rulemaking is the right thing for rail workers, the right thing for the planet, the right thing for communities of color, and the right thing for building greener, cleaner manufacturing in the U.S.,” he told the EPA. “We stand in full support.”

UE General President Carl Rosen also submitted to the EPA a copy of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst jobs report. “We urge the EPA to approve the proposed regulations,” Rosen wrote in his cover letter, “and in the future, go further to set stricter emission standards for diesel-powered locomotives federally.”


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