Environmental advocates this week served the Union Pacific and BNSF railroads notice to implement pollution-reduction measures within 90 days at their yards throughout California or they will be sued in federal court.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, along with local environmental organizations, charge that diesel emissions from locomotives, cargo-handling equipment and trucks serving the rail yards expose nearby residents to a variety of health risks.
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“People living near these rail yards are exposed to startling levels of pollution and carcinogens every day,” said David Pettit, NRDC senior attorney.
Pettit said that under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, NRDC must notify the railroads by letter of the charges, and the railroads will have 90 days to take action to implement pollution-reduction measures.
The NRDC proposed about 20 remedies, including use of cleaner locomotives and yard equipment, limiting locomotive idling to 15 minutes or less, establishing no-idle zones within 50 feet of residential areas and performing enhanced truck, locomotive and equipment inspections.
The letter targets 16 rail facilities in Southern and Northern California. Some of the rail yards handle international freight moving to and from the ports of Los Angles, Long Beach and Oakland, while other yards handle domestic freight.
The threat of legal action comes as UP awaits release of the environmental impact report for proposed expansion of its Intermodal Container Transfer Facility less than five miles from the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex, and BNSF awaits release of the EIR for construction of its proposed Southern California International Gateway close to the ICTF.
Pettit said the NRDC challenge was not timed to coincide with the release of the EIRs this summer or fall. “We’ve been working on this for awhile,” he said.
Port executives are taking note of the possible legal action because challenges by the NRDC and other groups over the past decade created an impasse that blocked marine terminal expansion projects for at least seven years. The ports in 2006 developed their Clean Air Action Plan, and this template for pollution reduction has led to commencement of construction recently of several marine terminal projects in the harbor.
The ports say the near-dock rail yards are crucial to the growth of intermodal cargo in Southern California. Although the ports are expanding their on-dock facilities, the on-dock capability will likely top out at about 35 percent of the container volume, so additional near-dock capacity will be needed as ocean carriers continue to introduce larger container ships into the trans-Pacific trades.
BNSF was preparing a comment on the NRDC letter. UP, however, said that they could not comment on the matter. “We have not yet seen the letter, so we can not comment,” said spokesman Tom Lange.