An engine pulls vehicles on the Union Pacific Roper yard in South Salt Lake on Tuesday. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Information)
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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers are steamrolling forward with a invoice to strong-arm the most important railroad firm in North America, with a prime legislative chief accusing the corporate of being an unwilling and uncooperative accomplice in efforts to clear the state’s troublesome air air pollution.
Regardless of protests from Union Pacific, complaining that the invoice would mandate an not possible activity, the Home Financial Improvement and Workforce Providers Committee on Tuesday unanimously voted to endorse HB405 and ship it to the Home flooring.
Hours later, the complete Utah Home of Representatives fast-tracked the invoice and voted overwhelmingly — Democrats and Republicans — to approve it, with zero votes in dissent. It now goes to the Senate.
The invoice would require rail yards which have 4 or extra switchers — or a railroad locomotive used to maneuver rail vehicles inside a rail yard — to energy these switchers “wholly by a hydrogen gas cell or electrical energy” by no later than Jan. 1, 2028.
The invoice particularly targets Union Pacific’s Roper Rail Yard in Salt Lake Metropolis, which has “produced sufficient emissions that’s primarily equal to I-15 at rush hour” because of its over 40 switchers that use decades-old, “tier 0” know-how, College of Utah atmospheric scientist Dr. Daniel Mendoza informed lawmakers.
Union Pacific is without doubt one of the largest “level sources” or highest concentrated sources of air pollution in Salt Lake County, Mendoza stated, noting that these switchers should idle 24/7 in winter months to forestall the engine blocks from freezing or cracking.
“So sadly throughout our worst durations of air air pollution, throughout winter time, is when these engines are continually working,” Mendoza stated.
Mendoza introduced alongside the invoice’s sponsor, Home Majority Chief Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, who urged lawmakers to move the invoice, saying Utah has had sufficient with Union Pacific’s unwillingness to have interaction.
“I’d hope … that Union Pacific would come forth and voluntarily assist resolve our drawback as an alternative of being one of many largest issues,” Schultz stated. “That is my hope, however that has but to occur.”
Different main firms like Chevron, Marathon Petroleum Company, Silver Eagle, HollyFrontier and Rio Tinto have labored with Utah leaders to supply tier 3 fuels or make investments thousands and thousands to assist enhance Utah’s air high quality, Schultz stated.
“These companies are nice company residents,” Schultz stated. “They’ve stepped up, they’ve spent thousands and thousands … to assist the air high quality throughout our state. Union Pacific proper now is just not a kind of good company residents.”
Whereas Union Pacific noticed it is largest revenue 12 months in 2021 — raking in $6.5 billion — and is making an attempt new know-how for freight switchers in different states like California and Nebraska, “Utah is not on their listing regardless that we’ve got the worst air high quality within the nation — and the world — at occasions,” Schultz stated, noting elements of the state stay nonattainment areas beneath the EPA.
Schultz went as far to say that regardless that Utah lawmakers have tried discussing the switcher difficulty with Union Pacific in years previous, the corporate has been digging in its heels. Schultz pointed to a different one among his payments, HB181, which he stated seeks to forestall Union Pacific from “holding hostage” widening of roads round railroad crossings by refusing to pay for upkeep of these crossings.
Schultz stated Union Pacific has been enjoying hardball, leveraging that invoice.
“I used to be informed on the final cellphone name that if I didn’t drop HB181 that they’d not transfer ahead on these discussions with regard to freight switchers and a few of the different considerations within the state,” Schultz stated.
“I believe we’ve got a much bigger drawback within the state with Union Pacific,” Schultz added. “Each time I flip round I hear of different points. Employees — I can’t imagine all the employees which have got here to me and talked about security considerations, and I’ve to confess, I’ve previously labored to kill a few of the payments that got here in entrance of this legislature to cope with the security points with the employees.
“And so I’m fairly disheartened, truthfully, about their willingness to have interaction on this,” Schultz continued, noting it has been 5 years since Rep. Steve Helpful, R-Layton, started engaged on the freight switcher difficulty. “My expertise hasn’t been that nice, both, in working with them.”
Schultz obtained a heat reception from his Home colleagues, together with fellow Republicans who’re often in favor of a business-friendly surroundings.
“It is unlucky when we’ve got to compel somebody, a non-public entity, to do one thing, however I believe this invoice is a invoice that has been a very long time coming,” stated Rep. Steven Lund, R-Manti.
Nathan Anderson, senior director of public affairs for Union Pacific, urged lawmakers to not help the invoice, arguing it will set an not possible and unrealistic timeline for the railroad firm.
“We respect the sponsor’s effort on air high quality. We share these targets,” Anderson stated. “Union Pacific helps new know-how growth that improves each air high quality and operational effectivity. And we’re happy with our local weather motion plan, working towards a cleaner future. We count on innovation, disruption and transformation as know-how develops to satisfy the wants of our trade.”
Anderson stated Union Pacific intends to perform its purpose to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 “by means of a wide range of actions, together with the usage of new locomotive applied sciences.” The corporate is presently working to cut back emissions by means of working efficiencies and elevated use of diesel and renewable diesel fuels, he stated, and people various fuels “will permit us to make vital environmental positive aspects with our present fleet whereas evaluating promising however fledgling know-how.”
Anderson stated Union Pacific has launched a pilot program to check new battery electrical swap locomotives, anticipating to take possession of 20 by the top of 2024, “at which level we are able to start testing in earnest.”
These swap locomotives shall be examined in Nebraska and California — not Utah — as a result of these areas have extra excessive temperatures, have heavier rail quantity and “hump yards,” or elevated areas throughout the rail yard.
Anderson stated Union Pacific doesn’t count on battery electrical know-how to be “enough or out there at scale for operations” till after 2030. Within the meantime, it is “important” that Union Pacific’s fleet is ready to “preserve the nation’s provide chain fluid.” If the know-how proves to measure as much as their hopes, he stated Union Pacific is “open to partnering with Utah to convey a few of these items to the state as the brand new know-how turns into appropriate for broader deployment.”
“We welcome additional discussions to discover how we are able to work collectively to enhance air high quality and higher perceive the air high quality impacts of locomotives and the environmental advantages of rail,” Anderson stated.
‘Corporations must be held accountable’
Clear air advocates together with Ashley Miller, govt director of Breathe Utah, spoke in help of the invoice, saying she’s been “frequently dissatisfied” in Union Pacific’s switchers and their “lack of ability to come back to a voluntary settlement or any settlement with the state to improve this tools.”
“These firms must be held accountable for the air pollution they create, particularly when there may be know-how out there to cut back it so considerably,” she stated. “They should step up and do the fitting factor for the folks of Utah.”
Rep. Doug Owens, D-Millcreek, agreed, noting Mendoza’s feedback that cellular sources contribute to about 50% of Salt Lake County’s air pollution, and of that about 2% to three% is “straight attributable” to freight switchers.
“That is a really evident level supply that must be addressed,” Owens stated. “The necessity is clear.”
On the Home flooring, Helpful thanked Schultz for sponsoring the invoice, saying his previous conversations with Union Pacific — and the information that Nebraska and California, not Utah, would get to check out the brand new know-how — have been “discouraging.”
“Let’s unite collectively and ship a message that we deserve that consideration within the nice state of Utah,” Helpful urged his fellow representatives earlier than the vote.
Schultz, in an interview with the Deseret Information, stated he hopes Union Pacific will interact in conversations over the invoice because it strikes ahead. He stated he is open to negotiations.
“For 5 years, this has been talked about and talked about and talked about, and Union Pacific has put it off and punted and stated a whole lot of issues, however (we have) but to see any motion,” Schultz stated. “We would like to see any incremental enchancment.”
Schulz added Union Pacific continues to not solely “not interact, however be obstructionist” by threatening to carry payments — and roadways — “hostage.”
“It is irritating,” Schulz stated, “and I believe it simply exhibits that every one they care about is their backside greenback and their income.”