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Natural Resources Defense Council files federal lawsuit against BNSF, UP over California yard emissions


Earlier this week, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a federal lawsuit against BNSF Railway Co. and Union Pacific Corp. claiming they violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which regulates hazardous solid waste disposal, at 17 yards in California.

The council claims minute particles in diesel exhaust, including lead, cadmium, arsenic and other elements, should be considered solid waste. NRDC officials believe diesel emissions at the yards pose “serious health risks” to residents near the facilities, such as an increased incidence of cancer, asthma, and respiratory and cardiac conditions, council officials said in a prepared statement.

“The rail industry is subject to the same laws as other major polluters,” said NRDC Senior Attorney David Pettit. “These companies must be held accountable for the health problems their operations cause people and the lives put at stake.”

However, the lawsuit is “misdirected,” BNSF officials said in a statement issued in response to the litigation. Freight rail is the world's most fuel-efficient mode of surface transportation and an important part of the solution to southern California's air quality problems, they said. In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has jurisdiction over mobile source emissions and fuel supplies, and the Class I complies with EPA rules and regulations regarding operations, BNSF officials added.

“BNSF entered voluntary emissions reduction agreements with the California Air Resources Board more than a decade ago, which have been commended by the EPA. The California Air Resources Board has also stated the agreement will provide locomotive fleet benefits in southern California 20 years earlier than the rest of the country,” they said. “These voluntary efforts have already improved rail's environmental advantages over the highway by using the cleanest fleet of locomotives in the nation, using ultra-low-emission diesel fuel and reducing diesel particulate emissions from rail yards by at least 50 percent, on average, since 2005.”

UP officials have not yet reviewed the lawsuit. However, the Class I remains in compliance with state and federal regulations, UP officials said in a statement.

“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, earlier this year, the U.S. EPA honored Union Pacific with its Clean Air Excellence Award, and we were presented a California Governor's Economic and Environmental Leadership award in 2010,” they said. “We will continue working to develop sustainable freight transportation solutions for America.”

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More News from 10/20/2011