Association of American Railroads

Association of American Railroads (AAR)

Background

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) is a 501(c)(6) trade organization that represents major freight railroad companies in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. In addition to providing industry data, research, and standards setting, AAR lobbies in Washington, D.C. for “sound public policy that supports the interests of the freight rail industry.” 1About Us,” Association of American Railroads. Archived December 17, 2019. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/FmSEz

AAR boasts on its website that rail has been responsible for moving nearly 70% of coal in the U.S., and that it moved 4.4 million carloads in 2018. Rail is also a major transporter of crude oil. “The push for U.S. energy independence from foreign sources of fossil fuel relies extensively on freight rail as an important transportation partner. Railroads are an essential contributor to the success of the crude oil industry,” AAR notes.2“Freight Rail & Energy: Safely Moving Coal, Ethanol & Crude Oil” (PDF), AAR, October 2018. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

AAR describes rail as the “the most environmentally friendly way” to move cargo over land, and boasts it is “well ahead of other modes of transportation when it comes to limiting greenhouse gas emissions, increasing fuel efficiency and reducing its carbon footprint.”3A Major but Little-Known Supporter of Climate Denial: Freight Railroads,” The Atlantic, December 13, 2019. Archived December 18, 2019. 4Freight Rail: The Most Environmentally Friendly Way to Move Freight Over Land,” Association of American Railroads. Archived December 19, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.ph/hprmb

The largest class of railroads made a total of $10.7 billion in 2018 from hauling coal, so “while rail companies say they emitted only about 0.6 percent of U.S. greenhouse-gas pollution last year, their indirect carbon footprint may be gargantuan,” reported The Atlantic.5A Major but Little-Known Supporter of Climate Denial: Freight Railroads,” The Atlantic, December 13, 2019. Archived December 18, 2019.

Stance on Climate Change

Despite expressing concern for reducing emissions in public, all four of America’s largest railroads – each a member of AAR – have joined and funded groups opposing climate legislation or promoting coal use, such as the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).6Freight Rail: Moving Miles Ahead on Sustainability,” Association of American Railroads. Archived December 17, 2019.

AAR itself was involved in opposition to regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. In a document titled “Strategic Initiatives for 2007,”  AAR‘s Policy and Advocacy Management Committee listed the “defeat of legislation or regulation imposing onerous restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions and fossil fuel use” as one of the group’s goals.

The Railroad Industry’s Role in Climate Change Denial

An October 2019 study by Drexel University sociologist and environmental scientist Robert J. Brulle revealed that the railroad industry has been among some of the most prominent members and funders of a group of organizations actively advocating climate science denial and blocking climate legislation. This includes the Association of American Railroads as well as BNSF Railway, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, and CSX, four of the biggest freight rail companies in North America. 7Justin Mikulka. “New Paper Reveals Rail Industry Was Leader in Climate Denial Efforts,” DeSmog, November 14, 2019. 8A Major but Little-Known Supporter of Climate Denial: Freight Railroads,” The Atlantic, December 13, 2019. Archived December 18, 2019.

“In conjunction with their allied trade associations, these coalitions have served as a central coordination mechanism in efforts opposed to mandatory limits on carbon emissions,” Brulle found in his research.

As DeSmog’s Justin Mikulka reported,9Justin Mikulka. “New Paper Reveals Rail Industry Was Leader in Climate Denial Efforts,” DeSmog, November 14, 2019. Brulle’s research revealed that the rail industry was part of “key political coalitions that worked to oppose climate action.” 10Robert J. Brulle. “Networks of Opposition: A Structural Analysis of U.S. Climate Change Countermovement Coalitions 1989–2015,Sociological Inquiry, October 21, 2019.

We can now identify railroads as an integral component of opposition to climate action,” Brulle told The Atlantic. “There’s no doubt in my mind about that.”11A Major but Little-Known Supporter of Climate Denial: Freight Railroads,” The Atlantic, December 13, 2019. Archived December 18, 2019.

Geoffrey Supran, a Harvard history researcher focused on climate change politics, told The Atlantic that Brulle’s research had revealed that railroads were “central” to climate change denial. “They’re not peripheral. These are key cogs in a multidecade, well-oiled, well-funded denial machine,” he commented. 12A Major but Little-Known Supporter of Climate Denial: Freight Railroads,” The Atlantic, December 13, 2019. Archived December 18, 2019.

Brulle examined 25 years of data on groups involved in “the organized efforts to oppose meaningful climate action,” and found that railroads were consistently part of coalitions dedicated to blocking climate policies or pushing climate change denial.13Robert J. Brulle. “Networks of Opposition: A Structural Analysis of U.S. Climate Change Countermovement Coalitions 1989–2015,” Sociological Inquiry, October 21, 2019.

Involvement by AAR and its major member railroads in groups opposing climate legislation goes back as far as 1991, when they joined the Coalition for Vehicle Choice, a group created by the auto industry to fight increases in federal fuel efficiency standards. 

In 1992, AAR and the railroad companies joined the now-defunct Global Climate Coalition, a group that worked to undermine the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) while suggesting human-caused climate change was largely a natural cycle. Trade associations such as the American Petroleum InstituteNational Association of Manufacturers, and National Mining Association were also GCC members, as well as fossil fuel giants like ExxonMobil.14Mat Hope, Karen Savage. “Global Climate Coalition: Documents Reveal How Secretive Fossil Fuel Lobby Group Manipulated UN Climate Programs,” DeSmog, April 24, 2019.

In 1996, AAR and all four major railroads joined the Center for Energy and Economic Development (CEED). The founding chairman of the CEED board was John Snow, president and CEO of CSX Corporation, a major American freight rail company.15Mat Hope, Karen Savage. “Global Climate Coalition: Documents Reveal How Secretive Fossil Fuel Lobby Group Manipulated UN Climate Programs,” DeSmog, April 24, 2019.

CEED described itself as “a non-profit group dedicated to protecting the viability of coal-based electricity.” CEED opposed the 1992 Kyoto Protocol, the first international climate change treaty, as well as other efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.16About CEED,” CEEDnet.org.  Archived October 26, 2000. Archive.is URL: https://archive.is/Doj1t

In 2007 the railroads joined a similar group, Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC). Coal-dependent energy companies were ABEC‘s primary sources of funding.17Who We Are,” AmericasPower.org. Archived November 4, 2007. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/Ms7vq

Both CEED and ABEC pushed the idea of “clean coal,” a concept repeatedly referenced by AAR.18“Railroads and Coal” (PDF), Association of American Railroads, May 2019. Archived December 20, 2019. Archived .pdf on file at Desmog.

CEED and ABEC merged around 2008 to form the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE). AAR joined the group that year.

In 2009, ACCCE was number three on the Mother Jones “Dirty Dozen” list of organizations most loudly denying the reality of human-propelled climate change.19No. 3: American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity,” Mother Jones, December 4, 2009. Archived August 1, 2017. Archive.is URL:  https://archive.is/xO7bi

Funding

Donations made by the Association of American Railroads

Robert Brulle found that since 2012, three of the major railroads had paid the American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy a combined total of more than $3 million to lobby on their behalf, according to disclosure forms. The railroad companies CSX, Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific also gave at least $28 million to other groups opposing climate policy.20A Major but Little-Known Supporter of Climate Denial: Freight Railroads,” The Atlantic, December 13, 2019. Archived December 18, 2019.

E&E News reported in late 2009 that “ACCCE‘s largest single contributor is the Association of American Railroads, which paid the trade group $6 million last year.” E&E News noted this put AAR in the company of numerous other coal and utility companies. “Peabody Energy Corp., Arch Coal Inc. and Consol Energy Inc. each paid $5 million to ACCCE. Atlanta-based utility Southern Co. gave ACCCE $2.1 million. American Electric Power Co. Inc. and FirstEnergy Corp., both Ohio-based utilities, each paid $2 million.”21IRS disclosures show extent of oil and coal groups’ outreach,” E&E News, November 18, 2009. Archived December 18, 2019. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/suz2S

The following is based on data collected by DeSmog from publicly available IRS Form 990 filings of donations made by AAR.

Third-Party Contractors Hired by AAR

IRS Form 990 Filings

Key People

The following key people were listed on the AAR website in 201822AAR Leadership,” Association of American Railroads. Archived November 7, 2018. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/wip/sdgTL or 2019:23AAR Leadership,” Association of American Railroads. Archived August 6, 2019. Archive .ph URL: https://archive.ph/wip/qRSOI

NameTitleYears
Ian JefferiesAAR President & CEO2019 — Present
Michael RushSenior Vice President, AAR Safety & Operations1980 — Present
John GraySenior Vice President, AAR Policy & Economics2008 — Present
Kristin SmithSenior Vice President, AAR Communications2009 — Present
Jeffrey MarshSenior Vice President, AAR Finance & Administration / Chief Financial Officer2012 — Present
Kathryn D. KirmayerSenior Vice President, AAR Law & General Counsel2015 — Present
Adrian ArnakisSenior Vice President, Government Affairs2018 — Present
Lisa StablerPresident, Transportation Technology Center, Inc.2010 — Present
Allen WestPresident & CEO, Railinc2006 — Present
Edward R. HambergerAssociation of American Railroads President & CEO (Outgoing in 2019)1998 — 2019
Jeffery MarshSenior Vice President, AAR Finance & Administration / Chief Financial Officer2012 — Present

Compensation of AAR Board of Directors

Actions

May 2019

AAR released a report in 2018 estimating that despite recent declines, coal still generated over 16% of revenue for the largest or “Class 1” railroads in North America. The report also outlined “environmental challenges” to coal-related revenues, and advocated “clean coal” technology as a solution to reduce coal’s greenhouse gas emissions:24“Railroads and Coal” (PDF), Association of American Railroads, May 2019. Archived December 20, 2019. Archived .pdf on file at Desmog.

“In addition to reasonable EPA regulations, railroads support the development of advanced carbon capture and storage and other clean coal technologies. By developing these technologies, America would continue to produce affordable electricity from its abundant domestic coal, energy independence would be promoted, and the environment would be protected — a win-win-win situation for all parties involved,” the report stated.25“Railroads and Coal” (PDF), Association of American Railroads, May 2019. Archived December 20, 2019. Archived .pdf on file at Desmog.

September 2016

In part two of a multipart DeSmog investigation of the reasons for oil train derailments, several experts told DeSmog that “sloshing”—the back-and-forth motion of the liquid contents of oil rail cars while a train is moving—could be a factor.26Justin Mikulka. “Why Do Oil Trains Derail More Often than Ethanol Trains?DeSmog, September 15, 2016.

An AAR spokesperson responded by stating that sloshing “is something that has been studied over the decades and continues to be monitored, but, evidence to date indicates sloshing does not have an effect on overall train handling.” However, DeSmog was unable to obtain copies of industry-funded studies and findings that sloshing was not a significant factor in derailments. AAR was “not in a position to release industry research at this time as it contains proprietary information,” according to the spokesperson. 27Justin Mikulka. “Why Do Oil Trains Derail More Often than Ethanol Trains?DeSmog, September 15, 2016.

A note on page 30 of a 2010 AAR publication titled “Field Guide to Tank Cars,” found by DeSmog, suggested the rail industry was aware that “lading surges,” or sloshing, was a potential issue in rail tank cars:28Field Guide to Tank Cars,” Association of American Railroads, 2010. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

“Unlike highway cargo tanks, tank car compartments are not constructed by applying interior walls within a single tank. Further, unlike some cargo tanks, tank cars do not have interior baffles to control lading surges.” (Emphasis added).

According to this document, in 2010 rail transportation of oil was not yet a significant portion of the industry’s revenues.

2015

The Association of American Railroads threatened to shut down the American economy by ceasing rail services unless Congress granted the industry another extension on implementing stronger safety measures. 29Justin Mikulka. “Shutdown Spin: Oil and Coal Industries Confident Congress Will Concede to Rail Industry,” DeSmog, October 22, 2015.

The regulations had first been recommended in 1970, and then mandated in 2008 following a fatal train collision.30Justin Mikulka. “How This U.S. Rail Safety Measure Has Been Delayed for 44 Years … And Counting,” DeSmog, April 30, 2014.

Norfolk Southern released a statement saying it would begin shutting down service in December if positive train control regulations were not pushed back.31(Press Release). “Norfolk Southern announces service changes in response to upcoming Positive Train Control deadline,” PR Newswire, October 20, 2015. Archived December 18, 2019. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/gc7db

Norfolk Southern sincerely regrets the inconvenience that customers, passengers, and commuters will experience,” said James A. Squires, president and CEO. “Our strong hope is that Congress will act quickly and decisively to allow us to restore full access to our rail network.”32(Press Release). “Norfolk Southern announces service changes in response to upcoming Positive Train Control deadline,” PR Newswire, October 20, 2015. Archived December 18, 2019. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/gc7db

The New York Times editorial board warned that, if an extension were granted, it should also put in place safeguards to ensure that stronger safety measures would not be further delayed by rail companies:33Congress Should Extend Rail Safety Deadline With Safeguards,” The New York Times, October 18, 2015. Archived December 18, 2019. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/wip/rnFgs

“Clearly, nobody wants a large-scale rail shutdown. That would make it much harder and more expensive for businesses to transport goods and for commuters to get to work. Congress should extend the deadline but make sure railroads are not in a position to demand another delay in three years by holding the economy hostage again.”34Congress Should Extend Rail Safety Deadline With Safeguards,” The New York Times, October 18, 2015. Archived December 18, 2019. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/wip/rnFgs

2007

AAR‘s Policy and Advocacy Management Committee, as in prior years, listed the “defeat of legislation or regulation imposing onerous restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions and fossil fuel use” as one of the group’s goals.

Another goal was to “[d]efeat safety and security legislation and regulation at federal, state and local levels that would impose onerous operating requirements or unjustified costs on rail transport.”

2005

The AAR‘s 2005 IRS Form 990 filing outlined goals of its Policy and Advocacy Management Committee. The first bullet under “Offensive Goals” was to enact energy legislation including clean coal and locomotive R&D Provisions.”

AAR 2005 Clean Coal Policy Agenda

2004

In a Government Affairs Department strategy document for the coming year, AAR outlined its goal to oppose any legislation that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions, noting it was working in concert with the Business Roundtable. Other areas of focus included Congress’s consideration of nuclear waste, Superfund reform, and other environmental legislation. The document also listed an objective of seeking federal support for “clean coal” technology.

Goals in the safety category included minimizing the impact of “burdensome new safety requirements” such as “positive train control” – systems that prevent collisions between trains – as well as in operational arenas including “fatigue” and “roadability.”

AAR 2004 Objectives

Memberships

Coalition for Vehicle Choice — Joined in 1991.38A Major but Little-Known Supporter of Climate Denial: Freight Railroads,” The Atlantic, December 13, 2019. Archived December 18, 2019.
Global Climate Coalition (GCC), now defunct — Joined in 1992.39A Major but Little-Known Supporter of Climate Denial: Freight Railroads,” The Atlantic, December 13, 2019. Archived December 18, 2019.
Center for Energy and Economic Development (CEED) — The top four North American freight rail companies as well as AAR joined in 1996.40A Major but Little-Known Supporter of Climate Denial: Freight Railroads,” The Atlantic, December 13, 2019. Archived December 18, 2019.
Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC) — Joined in 2007.41A Major but Little-Known Supporter of Climate Denial: Freight Railroads,” The Atlantic, December 13, 2019. Archived December 18, 2019.
American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) — Formed by a merger of ABEC and CEED. AAR joined in 2008, and left in 2015. The top four North American freight rail companies are still members.42A Major but Little-Known Supporter of Climate Denial: Freight Railroads,” The Atlantic, December 13, 2019. Archived December 18, 2019.

Full Members

Below is a list of full AAR members.

Contact & Address

Association for American Railroads43Contact Us,” Association of American Railroads. Archived January 2, 2020. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/wip/0gJox

425 3rd Street SW
Washington, D.C. 20024

202-639-2100

Social Media

Other Resources

Resources

Related Profiles

APCO Worldwide Background APCO has been described as “one of the world's most powerful PR firms.” [1], [2] According to its agency profile at O'Dwyers, “APCO Worldwide is a...
Hugh W. Ellsaesser Credentials Ph.D., Meteorology. [1] Background Hugh W. Ellsaesser, born in 1920, is a meteorologist by training and retired “guest scientist” at the Lawren...
Alfred (Al) Pekarek Credentials Ph.D., University of Wyoming (1974). [1]B.A. University of Minnesota-Twin (1965). [1] Background Alfred (Al) Pekarek is a former ass...
Benny Josef Peiser Credentials Ph.D. , University of Frankfurt (1993). Peiser studied political science, English, and sports science. [1], [2] Background Benny Peiser is a sports ...