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US EPA changes locomotive preemption policy to enable California locomotive regulation

2 November 2023

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized revisions to its regulations that preempt state and local emission regulation of locomotives and engines used in locomotives. The changed policy will allow California to enforce its In-Use Locomotive Regulation adopted in April.

The EPA final rule implements a policy change that will “no longer categorically preempt certain state regulations of non-new locomotives and engines, while retaining exclusive federal authority for the regulation of new locomotives and new locomotive engines”, the agency said. “EPA’s regulatory revisions will preserve the ability of California to adopt and enforce certain emission standards regulating non-new locomotives and engines.” Once authorized by the EPA, the California standards may be adopted by other states.

The California In-Use Locomotive Regulation would require rail operators to pay an amount—determined by the emissions they create—into an escrow spending account. Rail companies would be able to use the funds to upgrade to cleaner locomotives. The regulation also specifies a maximum locomotive age and certain zero-emission and idling requirements.

However, under the existing EPA regulations, the preemption of states to regulate locomotive emissions extends for a period equal to 133 percent of the regulatory useful life of a new locomotive or new engine used in a locomotive [40 CFR 1074.12(b)]—even after the locomotive or engine was placed into service and ceased to be “new”. This federal regulatory language has been inconsistent with the provisions of the California in-use locomotive rule.

The EPA final rule, among other changes, deletes the provisions of 40 CFR 1074.12, which specify the scope of preemption and the explicit period of preemption (133 percent of useful life). The adopted changes follow a proposal that was a part of the Phase 3 GHG emission standards package [88 FR 26092-26096].

In June, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) together with other rail groups have filed a lawsuit against the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in the Eastern District of California over the In-Use Locomotive Regulation. “The CARB rule would limit the useful life of today’s locomotive fleet (over 25,000 locomotives) and mandate their premature replacement with zero-emissions locomotives. This technology has not been sufficiently tested in prototype or operational service and is not commercially available on the market today,” the AAR said in a press release. The railroads also said that the CARB in-use rule is unworkable for short lines and would bankrupt some small business short lines.

The EPA final rule was hailed by environmental groups and public health advocates.

Source: US EPA