Railyards in California and elsewhere are huge sources of deadly diesel pollution. The California Air Resources Board ("CARB") has conducted health risk assessments of the major California railyards and found that railyard operations have increased the cancer risk for nearly 3 million California residents. The two major railroads that serve California, BNSF and Union Pacific, have presented mitigation plans that do not come close to fixing the problems that their operations cause.
In April, 2008, the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, Coalition for a Safe Environment, Communities for a Better Environment, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice and Westside Residents for Clean Air Now petitioned CARB to impose state-wide rules to reduce pollution from California railyards. CARB initially denied their petition but reversed itself on January 21, 2009. CARB acknowledged that "railyards are responsible for an unacceptably high risk of exposure to diesel particulate matter in nearby communities," and agreed to hold a public hearing before June 30, 2009 on a plan designed to achieve emission reductions from locomotives and at California railyards "beyond the reductions that have been achieved or will be achieved from previously adopted federal and state regulations and state memoranda of understanding."
NRDC has worked for years to clean up the freight movement system in the U.S., and we acknowledge that, on a ton per mile basis, trains are more efficient and cleaner than diesel trucks for hauling freight. But this does not mean that trains and railyards get a free ride on the pollution they cause, as my colleague Adrian Martinez has pointed out. We applaud the result that the environmental justice groups have achieved before CARB. Let's get this mess cleaned up.