UE Members Speak in Favor of Reduced Train Emissions at EPA Hearing

March 28, 2024

UE rail crew drivers and leaders from California gave testimony at a virtual hearing hosted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on March 20. They encouraged the federal government to approve a new regulation from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) that will reduce air pollution from train yards.

People living near and working in train yards are exposed to a toxic combination of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter from the diesel exhaust of locomotives. This air pollution causes increased levels of lung and heart diseases, shorter lifespans, and higher medical care costs for workers and nearby residents. 

There are already regulations on the books that raise emissions standards for locomotive engines; however, Local 1077 District 1 Chief Steward Rudolph Ward said they are not sufficient to hold the railroad industry accountable.

“They repair locomotives just enough to keep them running,” said Ward, explaining how the railroads use a loophole in the law to keep polluting his community. The existing regulations only apply to newly manufactured locomotives, not those that are “remanufactured.”

The result is that older, more polluting locomotives get concentrated in rail yards to do the work of switching (building train cars into long trains for journeys between yards), and public health around those yards suffers. This is the problem CARB is trying to solve with their new In-Use Locomotive Regulation, which gives the rail industry multiple options to lower their emissions and improve health outcomes for workers and their families.

Ward broke down what was at stake for him, his family, and his coworkers. “My son has asthma and it’s affected him all his life,” he said.

The state of California, however, cannot regulate train emissions without the federal government signing off. The Clean Air Act gives the EPA the final power to approve or deny rules related to air quality made by states. This public comment period is the final step before the EPA makes a decision regarding California’s new regulation.

UE Western Regional President Bryan Martindale echoed what environmental grassroots organizers and legal advocates said in favor of the EPA granting approval.

“Our members transport rail crews wherever they need to go and spend much of their time every day in various rail yards. The locomotives doing most of the grunt work in these rail yards tend to be the biggest polluters,” said Martindale. “Other people that are breathing in these toxic fumes are the ones living in the communities near these rail yards. It’s no surprise that these communities are low-income communities and communities of color.”

Opponents of the new regulations complained that this life-saving regulation created an impossible expectation for the railroad industry to rapidly adopt “new” technology. As is typical of bosses and their political allies, speakers opposing approval of the regulation focused on threats about loss of jobs and unrealistic worst-case scenarios.

However, Martindale pointed out that “UE also represents workers at the premier locomotive manufacturing plant in the country. I'm quite certain that these members in Erie Pennsylvania would welcome the new jobs and orders this regulation would create.”

There is still time to submit written public comments to the EPA. The easiest way to make your voice heard is online. Visit their website and click the blue “Comment” button to submit a comment in favor of the new regulations. The last day to submit a comment before the EPA makes a decision is April 22, 2024.


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