Coal train
Open railcars carrying coal. Photo Credit | Richmond Standard

A Major but Little-Known Supporter of Climate Denial: Freight Railroads

For nearly 30 years, America’s four biggest rail companies—which move the majority of the country’s coal—have spent millions to deny climate science and block climate policy.

 

In the fight against climate change, the nation’s freight railroads have painted themselves as heroes. Rail is the “the most environmentally friendly way” to move cargo over land, says the Association of American Railroads, the industry’s trade group. The industry’s four biggest companies agree: “Railroads are essential to moving [climate] objectives forward,” says CSX Transportation, the largest railroad east of the Mississippi.

Yet for almost 30 years, the biggest players in the freight-rail industry have waged a campaign to discredit climate science and oppose almost any federal climate policy, reveals new research analyzed by The Atlantic.

The four largest American freight railroads—BNSF Railway, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, and CSX—have sat at the center of the climate-denial movement nearly since it began, documents and studies show. These four companies have joined or funded groups that attacked individual scientists, cast doubt on scientific consensus, and rejected reports from major scientific institutions, including the United Nations–led Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Their effort has cost at least tens of millions of dollars and outlasted individual leaders and coalitions.

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On Sept 19, 2023 ahead of the Climate Ambition Summit in New York City, climate activists gathered for a rally and civil disobedience outside Bank of America Tower in Midtown Manhattan as part of the March to End Fossil Fuels wave of actions resulting in multiple arrests. Activists demand Bank of America to “Defund Climate Chaos and Defend Human Rights” Photo: Erik McGregor (CC BY-NC 2.0 Deed)

Let’s Save Each Other

Let’s Save Each Other

Illustration by Stephanie McMillan. Used with permission