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Is Washington or Sacramento in charge of the nation’s railroads?
Dennis Wyatt 2022
Dennis Wyatt

These are confusing times in Sacramento.

Climate bureaucrats are awash in the delusion that the American River is the Potomac River.

And they believe 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is an address in the Sacramento suburb of Fair Oaks, where one Gavin Newsom bought a home for $3.7 million in 2019

Sacramento is not Washington, D.C.

It is kind of hard to tell these days where the nation’s capital is, given the Golden State is the proverbial tail wagging the dog when it comes to dictating the rules for interstate commerce.

We’re not talking about trivial things like no eggs can be sold in California from farms in other states unless they come from pampered chickens.

Think big as in the 40 plus freight trains that rumble through the heart of Manteca on a daily basis.

A single locomotive can tip the scales at 220 tons.

Add a hundred or so cars fully loaded with freight plus additional locomotives required to move them and you’re talking 180,000 tons.

Keep in mind F150 pickup trucks batteries get zapped towing a boat. The pulling technology of massive battery powered train engines aren’t anywhere close to being able to replace the efficiency of diesel engines pulling trains cross country let alone across the Sierra.

But that doesn’t matter when you are blinded by your convictions.

Given the powers that be in Sacramento are green to the gills these days, that is not a good thing.

When you seethe when there is a 100-car Union Pacific train on a siding blocking the Industrial Park Drive crossing to let another train pass, you see an inanimate idling object blocking your progress.

But that’s not what the climate crowd in Sacramento sees.

Instead, they see the end of the earth.

Trains, as they will tell you, are responsible for 2.1 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions attributed to the transportation sector in the United States.

What they don’t share is that all of the diesel train engines in the country generate just 0.5 percent of the nation’s overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Nor do they point out that trains move 40 percent of the nation’s freight in any given year.

For what diesel trains do, the greenhouse gas emissions arguably are a bit on the inconsequential side.

But have no fear.

Sacramento will sniff out every drop of greenhouse gas being emitted and eliminate the source regardless of the cost and whether it will make a real difference.

In the overall scheme of things, is it the right green move to make?

The move?

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) wants to ban any locomotive running in the state that is more than 23 years old starting in 2029.

The CARB also wants passenger trains to be zero emission by 2030. Long-distance freight trains have to follow suit by 2035.

The Environmental Protection Agency, of course, needs to bless the move.

Given the EPA’s tendency to obediently follow Sacramento, this has more than a few states a bit irked and the EPA’s bosses in Congress worried.

Why is this a problem?

California represents roughly 12 percent of the United States’ economy.

A lot of other states — and a lot of businesses — can’t live without California’s market.

And there is the inconvenient fact the federal government, and not the State of California, oversees interstate commerce.

The proposed CARB rule would bar two-thirds of the nation’s locomotives from entering California.

Zero-emission locomotives to pull freight trains would require batteries six to 10 times larger than current available commercial batteries.

A couple of problems.

Smaller battery locomotives currently have a nasty tendency to catch on fire or have explosions.

The CARB experts concede that the technology to move freight trains isn’t just around the corner.

Have no fear, the CARB has a “solution.”

It wants to require railroads to establish quasi-escrow accounts they pay into annually that they can tap when technology catches up with CARB edicts.

The quasi-escrow cost for BSNF Railroad alone will be $800 million a year.

That’s more than 20 percent of the railroad’s annual capital expenditures.

Guess where the money comes from?

Anyone who buys anything moved by railroads — finished products or the raw materials to make them — will pay more and more.

Some of the people who serve in Congress to make laws as opposed to bureaucrats who are elected by no one, worry that the proposed CARB rule would force more freight onto trucks to enter California.

That means more heavy duty semis on interstate freeways in California.


The technology isn’t quite there yet, not by a long shot, to covert the nation’s semi-truck fleet to being all electric.

So how did the United States get to the point where California is allowed to take the lead on certain issues and as the results of its oversized influence on the economy able to bludgeon other states into submission?

The original sin, if you will, was the bite out of the apple taken in 1967.

Ronald Reagan was governor.

Air pollution was significantly worse in California, especially in two unique air basins — the Great Central Valley and the Los Angeles Basin.

Prevailing winds and the fact the Central Valley is surrounded on four sides by high mountains while the LA Basin is surrounded by three ranges, made air quality issues much more stubborn to tackle in California than the rest of the nation.

California asked for, and got, an exemption that allowed the state to set tougher rules for automobile emissions and other air pollution sources within the state.

Sacramento is essentially playing the same card.

But the game isn’t the same as it was in 1967.

The pollution California was fighting was local/regional and not global.

The diesel engine rules CARB is proposing are far afield from the rationale that has granted California exemptions to exceed, when justified,  federal standards meant to establish cohesive rules for all 50 states addressing matters of interstate commerce.

Then there is the zinger.

It’s the bottom line impact of a forced edict that will costs society billions upon billions of dollars to implement.

No one is debating a point an economist with the American Enterprise Institute made in referencing scientific data regarding the proposed CARB rule.

The point: The CARB train rule when fully implemented by 2100 would reduce global temperature by only 0.000063 degrees Celsius.

If that isn’t true, then CARB needs to explain to Congress exactly what the net positive impact of the rule change would accomplish.

As it stands now, CARB is getting ready to take a chain saw to a hang nail.

And instead of just amputating California’s proverbial foot in a bid to secure barely negligible    benefit at a massive cost, it is using its green card to do likewise to the feet of the 49 other states.