Crime & Justice

Appeals court rules local air quality agencies can't limit train emissions

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A federal judge has knocked down efforts by Southland air quality regulators to limit pollution at railyards.

Diesel soot – the emissions from railroad engines, car engines and ship engines – contributes to 2,100 deaths a year in Southern California. That’s the finding of an epidemiological study by regional air officials – and that’s why regulators for the South Coast Air Quality Management District decided to try to tighten limits on how much soot engines in railyards can spew.

Environmental justice advocates near railyards in Commerce and San Bernardino supported the move. But a three-judge panel of the federal Ninth Circuit has determined that local rules that interfere with interstate commerce cannot stand. The railyards connect along a national railroad network, so they’re involved with interstate commerce.

If a statewide program incorporates rules like these and the federal Environmental Protection Agency approves them, they could take effect. But for now the decision’s a win for the railroad industry – including Burlington Northern Santa Fe – that sued to block the regional air district’s action.