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Congressman Peter DeFazio

Representing the 4th District of OREGON

Chair DeFazio Calls into Question Railroads Commitment to Combatting Climate Change

Jan 16, 2020
Press Release

Today, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) sent a letter to the President and CEO of the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Ian Jeffries, asking for follow up after an article in The Atlantic. The article suggested AAR’s commitment to combatting climate change is a farce and that in reality, AAR’s members help finance campaigns to deny the realities of climate change.

“The article indicates that the four largest Class I railroads – BNSF Railway, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, and CSX – have been major players in the climate-denial movement, investing millions of dollars to this day in efforts to discredit climate science and oppose Federal climate legislation. These four railroads are members of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which in 2014 called climate change a “hypothesis” and claimed that carbon dioxide is 400 times more beneficial to the population than it is harmful. If indeed members of AAR “joined or funded groups that attacked individual scientists, cast doubt on scientific consensus, and rejected reports from major scientific institutions,” such actions are extremely troubling,” DeFazio wrote. “I write with a simple question: is this true?  And if so, how can your organization continue to tout the environmental benefits of freight railroads while these same railroads are funding organizations who deny climate change?” 

Full text of the letter can be found below.

 

January 16, 2020

 

Ian Jefferies

President and Chief Executive Officer

Association of American Railroads

425 3rd Street SW

Washington, DC 20024

Dear Mr. Jefferies:

            Climate change is one of the most pervasive and damaging crises of our time. We are facing an existential threat, one which impacts the health and safety of generations to come. I have made this issue a top priority in my work as Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (Committee), especially in considering the important roles of the transportation and freight industries.

In this critical fight, America’s railroads cast themselves as stewards of the environment, working to develop sustainable energy solutions and lower greenhouse gas emissions. On AAR’s own website it highlights sustainability on the front page, linking to a site that states, “preserving the natural environment is a responsibility railroads take seriously.” More recently, when you testified at a hearing before the Committee, you stated that “railroads are looking outside the box in terms of enhancing sustainability and environmental preservation…and constantly looking for ways to improve their fuel efficiency and further reduce emissions.” Based on these comments, it would seem that we are equally committed to acknowledging the reality of climate change and fighting back.

However, an article recently published in The Atlantic titled “A Major but Little-Known Supporter of Climate Denial: Freight Railroads,” suggests that, for railroads, outside the box thinking includes dismissing widely-accepted science. Contrary to AAR’s shiny messaging and glossy advertising materials, the article suggests that core membership is covertly financing the subversive campaign to deny the inarguable realities of climate change. The article indicates that the four largest Class I railroads – BNSF Railway, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, and CSX – have been major players in the climate-denial movement, investing millions of dollars to this day in efforts to discredit climate science and oppose Federal climate legislation. These four railroads are members of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which in 2014 called climate change a “hypothesis” and claimed that carbon dioxide is 400 times more beneficial to the population than it is harmful. If indeed members of AAR “joined or funded groups that attacked individual scientists, cast doubt on scientific consensus, and rejected reports from major scientific institutions,” such actions are extremely troubling.[1] I write with a simple question: is this true?  And if so, how can your organization continue to tout the environmental benefits of freight railroads while these same railroads are funding organizations who deny climate change?

            Contrary to the junk science members of AAR allegedly funded, climate change has had a profound and measurable impact on the United States. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that from 2017-2019, damages from weather and climate disasters exceeded $450 billion, and trends have shown a dramatic increase in the frequency and severity of such storms.[2] Recent studies have even found that achieving the Paris Agreement targets could save the United States economy as much as $6 trillion, dwarfing previous costs of achieving those goals.[3]

            I look forward to hearing from you regarding this inquiry. Should you have any questions or need additional information, please contact the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee at (202) 225-4472.

                                                                        Sincerely,

PETER A. DeFAZIO            

Chair                                                                           

 

CC:      Carl R. Ice, BNSF

            James A. Squires, Norfolk Southern

            Lance M. Fritz, Union Pacific

            James M. Foote, CSX

--30--

 

 

[1] Meyer, Robinson. “A Major but Little-Known Supporter of Climate Denial: Freight Railroads,” The Atlantic. December 13, 2019. Accessible at https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/12/freight-railroads-funded-climate-denial-decades/603559/

[2] NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters (2020). Accessible at https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/

[3] Burke, Marshall and Diffenbaugh, Noah S. “Paris Agreement Goals Could Save Trillions in Avoided Climate Damages,” The Hill, May 27, 2018. Accessible at https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/389550-paris-agreement-goals-could-save-trillions-in-avoided-climate