Is Union Pacific a poor corporate citizen? Utah House fast-tracks a bill to force cleaner tech

An engine pulls vehicles on the Union Pacific Roper yard in South Salt Lake on Tuesday. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Information)

Estimated learn time: 7-8 minutes

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 companion in efforts to clear the state’s troublesome air air pollution.

Regardless of protests from Union Pacific, complaining that the invoice would mandate an unattainable job, the Home Financial Growth and Workforce Companies Committee on Tuesday unanimously voted to endorse HB405 and ship it to the Home ground.

Hours later, the total 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 gasoline 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 basically equal to I-15 at rush hour” due to its over 40 switchers that use decades-old, “tier 0” expertise, College of Utah atmospheric scientist Dr. Daniel Mendoza advised 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 intervals of air air pollution, throughout winter time, is when these engines are consistently operating,” Mendoza stated.

The Marathon refinery in Salt Lake City Utah on Feb. 15.
The Marathon refinery in Salt Lake Metropolis Utah on Feb. 15. (Photograph: Deseret Information)

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 might hope … that Union Pacific would come forth and voluntarily assist remedy 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 corporations like Chevron, Marathon Petroleum Company, Silver Eagle, HollyFrontier and Rio Tinto have labored with Utah leaders to supply tier 3 fuels or make investments tens of millions to assist enhance Utah’s air high quality, Schultz stated.

“These firms are nice company residents,” Schultz stated. “They’ve stepped up, they’ve spent tens of millions … to assist the air high quality throughout our state. Union Pacific proper now will not be a type of good company residents.”

Whereas Union Pacific noticed it is largest revenue 12 months in 2021 — raking in $6.5 billion — and is attempting new expertise for freight switchers in different states like California and Nebraska, “Utah is not on their checklist regardless that we now have the worst air high quality within the nation — and the world — at instances,” Schultz stated, noting components of the state stay nonattainment areas below the EPA.

Schultz went as far to say that regardless that Utah lawmakers have tried discussing the switcher problem with Union Pacific in years previous, the corporate has been digging in its heels. Schultz pointed to a different considered one of 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 advised on the final cellphone name that if I didn’t drop HB181 that they’d not transfer ahead on these discussions with reference to freight switchers and a number of the different issues within the state,” Schultz stated.

“I believe we now have a much bigger drawback within the state with Union Pacific,” Schultz added. “Each time I flip round I hear of different points. Staff — I can’t imagine all the employees which have got here to me and talked about security issues, and I’ve to confess, I’ve previously labored to kill a number of the payments that got here in entrance of this legislature to cope with the protection points with the employees.

“And so I’m fairly disheartened, actually, about their willingness to have interaction on this,” Schultz continued, noting it has been 5 years since Rep. Steve Useful, R-Layton, started engaged on the freight switcher problem. “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 setting.

“It is unlucky when we now have to compel somebody, a personal 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.

An engine at the Union Pacific Roper yard in South Salt
Lake is pictured on Tuesday.
An engine on the Union Pacific Roper yard in South Salt
Lake is pictured on Tuesday. (Photograph: Deseret Information)

Nathan Anderson, senior director of public affairs for Union Pacific, urged lawmakers to not help the invoice, arguing it could set an unattainable and unrealistic timeline for the railroad firm.

“We recognize the sponsor’s effort on air high quality. We share these targets,” Anderson stated. “Union Pacific helps new expertise 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 expertise develops to satisfy the wants of our business.”

Anderson stated Union Pacific intends to perform its purpose to succeed in net-zero emissions by 2050 “via quite a lot of actions, together with the usage of new locomotive applied sciences.” The corporate is at present working to scale back emissions via working efficiencies and elevated use of diesel and renewable diesel fuels, he stated, and people different fuels “will enable us to make vital environmental good points with our present fleet whereas evaluating promising however fledgling expertise.”

Anderson stated Union Pacific has launched a pilot program to check new battery electrical change locomotives, anticipating to take possession of 20 by the tip of 2024, “at which level we are able to start testing in earnest.”

These change locomotives will probably 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 inside the rail yard.

Anderson stated Union Pacific doesn’t count on battery electrical expertise to be “enough or accessible at scale for operations” till after 2030. Within the meantime, it is “important” that Union Pacific’s fleet is ready to “maintain the nation’s provide chain fluid.” If the expertise proves to measure as much as their hopes, he stated Union Pacific is “open to partnering with Utah to deliver a few of these items to the state as the brand new expertise 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.

‘Firms should 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 disenchanted” in Union Pacific’s switchers and their “incapacity to come back to a voluntary settlement or any settlement with the state to improve this tools.”

“These corporations should be held accountable for the air pollution they create, particularly when there may be expertise accessible to scale 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 apparent.”

On the Home ground, Useful 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 expertise — have been “discouraging.”

“Let’s unite collectively and ship a message that we deserve that consideration within the nice state of Utah,” Useful 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 numerous 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 reveals that every one they care about is their backside greenback and their earnings.”

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