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IG questions EPA stimulus spending on train refurbishing in California
Pollution cuts, job gains can’t be verified
Question of the Day
Government officials can’t be sure that a nearly $9 million grant from President Obama’s 2009 stimulus law has actually created jobs and reduced air pollution in southern California, a new watchdog report says, showing that even five years after the money was handed out, federal regulators are having to keep a close eye on funds the president intended to boost the economy.
The money part of Mr. Obama’s $830 billion plan to stimulate the recession-wracked economy — was for refurbishing locomotive trains, but the Environmental Protection Agency’s internal inspector general said there’s no proof the engine overhauls helped reduce pollution or created any jobs.
Under a program established in 2005, EPA officials gave $8,888,888 in stimulus funds to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to refurbish eight switchyard locomotives. CARB had found that most of the pollution from railroads came from engines that worked exclusively in switch yards, and the grant was an attempt to create cleaner engines that would cut down on air pollution. In fact, officials hoped the overhauls would cut emissions of some toxic particulates by as much as 90 percent.
But the IG’s office found that no one actually tracked whether pollution had been cut down, and the agency had no hard data on whether the refurbishments were effective.
Without this information, “the EPA does not have reasonable assurance that the project will achieve projected emissions reductions or expected environmental results and human-health benefits,” the inspectors said.
The government also could not determine whether it got a return on its investment to create jobs — the main purpose of the stimulus act. CARB and the railroad company it worked with, BNSF, reported employment via the total number of hours people worked on the project, but didn’t track how much of that was a direct result of the government’s money. CARB officials said they have the data and will work with the EPA to calculate the exact number of people hired.
In its response, the EPA said it disagreed that a direct assessment of the pollution reduction was needed, instead saying that the estimates are accurate.
And CARB officials said collecting exact fuel-usage data for each locomotive would be “cost-prohibitive” for the railroad companies, and that the estimates would be enough to calculate pollution emissions accurately.
“The project achieved its objective to cut air pollution and health risk,” the organization said.
But the IG said it was especially worried that the old, pollution-prone engines pulled from the locomotives are still in use. BNSF was supposed to scrap the old engines after they were replaced, but CARB allowed the company to use them outside of California. The IG pointed out that that doesn’t reduce pollution, just shifts it to a new state.
“The potential use of the old engines by BNSF outside of California could offset emissions reductions gained by the newer engines and result in no net environmental benefit being derived from the project,” investigators said.
On the plus side, investigators said CARB was able to refurbish 11 locomotives instead of the originally planned eight because workers were able to reduce costs.
BNSF has already had to repay $94,000 because it billed CARB for more money than it cost to make the overhauls.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Phillip Swarts is an investigative reporter for The Washington Times, covering fiscal waste, fraud and political ethics. He is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and previously worked as an investigative reporter for the Washington Guardian. Phillip can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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