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Monday, June 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Enviros Say Railyards Get a Pass to Pollute

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Three environmental groups claims operators of 16 Southern California railyards spew "deadly" diesel pollution - with little or no regulatory oversight - into some of the area's poorest communities, including San Bernardino, Riverside County, Long Beach and East Los Angeles.

Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe and BNSF Railway Co. are the defendants in the federal complaint from the Center for Community Action & Environmental Justice, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The environmental groups seek an order to "abate deadly diesel particulate pollution" from the railyards.

"People living near these railyards, including members of plaintiffs' organizations, are in imminent and substantial danger of increased cancer risk, asthma, reduced lung function and other cardiovascular ailments, all as a result of the railyards' diesel particulate pollution," according to the federal complaint.

The plaintiffs say that vehicles on railyard property, including locomotives and trucks, emit "diesel particulate matter" (DPM) from their engines.

"DPM from the railyards is transported by wind and air currents onto the land and water near the railyards, and is inhaled by people both directly and after the particles have fallen to the earth and then have been re-entrained into the air by wind, air currents and passing vehicles," the complaint states.

Even though California classified DPM as a toxic air pollutant in the late '90s, and the EPA says that diesel exhaust is harmful to humans, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) "has failed to regulate the railroads that own and operate the railyards in question," the environmental groups say.

"Voluntary agreements between CARB and defendants, and EPA regulations have failed to ameliorate the DPM pollution from the railyards to health protective levels. And, these defendants are proposing to build one huge new railyard and expand another in a heavily-polluted and densely populated area near the Port of Los Angeles," according to the complaint.

Aaron Hunt, Union Pacific's director of corporate relations and media, told Courthouse News in an emailed statement that Union Pacific was "in compliance with state and federal regulations."

"We are proud of our rail industry leadership role in testing and developing technology that improves fuel efficiency, reduces emissions and provides sustainable freight transportation solutions that support America's economy. In fact, the EPA recently honored Union Pacific with its Clean Air Excellence Award and we were presented a California Governor's Economic and Environmental Leadership award in 2010," Hunt wrote on Wednesday.

But the environmental groups say the railyards emit tons of DMP each year, and the problem will be exacerbated as commerce in Los Angeles and Long Beach ports increases.

Two communities "stand out as most heavily affected" by DPM pollution, the groups say.

"They are the Westside of the City of San Bernardino and the combined communities of Glen Avon/Mira Lorna in Riverside County. Each is noted for having high pollution levels: Mira Lorna/Glen Avon have the highest levels of particulate pollution in the South Coast Air Basin, and San Bernardino has the highest ozone levels in the state. ...

"Long Beach and the Commerce/East Los Angeles area, where EYCEJ's [East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice] membership base is located, has clusters of neighborhoods composed predominantly of persons of color that are subjected to a disproportionate burden of many different environmental hazards which, taken cumulatively, have a profound negative impact and significantly reduce the quality of life."

The plaintiffs, represented by Natural Resources Defense Council senior attorney David Pettit, seek declaratory and injunctive relief under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

"The rail industry is subject to the same laws as other major polluters," Pettit said in statement sent to Courthouse News. "These companies must be held accountable for the health problems their operations cause people and the lives put at stake. People living near rail yards in San Bernardino should have the same quality of air as people living in Beverly Hills."

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