The state House has voted to put some new restrictions on railroads that want to expand their operations in Arizona even though the measure might run afoul of federal law.
HB2156, given preliminary approval Thursday on a voice vote, requires railroads to notify the Arizona Department of Transportation of any plans for new tracks, rail yards or rail switching facilities. It would also mandate that the company assess the effects the project would have on air quality, water resources, areas of historic and geographic significance within two miles of the project, and the economic effects on surrounding communities.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Paton, R-Tucson, would also require ADOT to hold at least one public hearing.
The legislation is aimed specifically at trying to persuade Union Pacific Railroad to alter its plans to build a six-mile-long rail yard near Picacho Peak. That move has drawn fire from a host of groups, including nearby landowners, environmentalists and those who suggest the facility would mar the beauty of the site.
Union Pacific spokesman Luis Heredia said his company is willing to work with the state to address any questions. But railroads are federally regulated, he said, and the federal Surface Transportation Board has exclusive jurisdiction over expansion plans.
The measure is somewhat scaled back from a version approved by lawmakers last year, one that was vetoed by Gov. Janet Napolitano. Paton said that's one reason he altered this year's bill to give review authority to ADOT, which is under the governor's control, rather than the elected Arizona Corporation Commission.
Heredia said the federal government has its own review and public input requirements. But he acknowledged that the plans to expand the rail yard adjacent to tracks are not subject to federal scrutiny.
Paton acknowledged that there is federal authority over railroads, but he said legislative lawyers reviewed the bill and believe it would withstand a legal challenge should it become law.