By Don Anair and Emiliano Mataka, January 19, 2014
Our economy depends on trucks, trains and ships powered primarily by diesel fuel to move our food, household goods
and other commodities in a constant flow throughout California.
Unfortunately, freight commerce takes a toll on our health and
environment when heavy-duty engines leave noxious fumes in their wake.
communities disproportionately experience the health impacts of
industrial freight activity by being forced to breathe diesel exhaust on
a daily basis in their own neighborhoods. For instance, the San Joaquin Valley is being inundated with distribution centers that promise jobs but also add pollution to an area known nationwide for having some of the poorest air quality in the United States.
to rely almost exclusively on oil-fueled freight transportation means a
future with elevated risks of respiratory diseases like asthma,
developmental impacts for children, premature deaths and the dangerous
consequences of climate change.
We don’t have to sacrifice economic success to achieve air quality,
health and climate benefits. Technologies that dramatically reduce
pollution and improve efficiency present an opportunity to transform
today’s conventional freight vehicles into a low-carbon transportation system that cleans our air and reduces our oil consumption.
California has a proven track record for taking innovative actions to curtail air pollution,
improve public health and fight climate change. That same vision is
necessary now to begin a transition to a more efficient freight system,
one that relies on cleaner alternatives to our current diesel-powered
transportation and more effectively moves the goods we use every day.
The freight sector is California’s largest single source of
ozone-causing nitrogen oxide emissions and diesel particulate pollution.
Movement of freight is also a major contributor to climate change,
including emissions of carbon dioxide and black carbon.
California has adopted policies that have dramatically reduced
pollution from cars, trucks and other sources over the last several
decades, the science assessing the impacts of air pollution on public
health has also advanced. The air across California is cleaner than it
once was, but there are still too many communities where it is
unhealthy. As a result, existing state policies – particularly for
freight transportation – are insufficient to meet upcoming federal
air-quality deadlines. At the same time, global-warming emissions from
freight vehicles are expected to grow in the coming decades unless we
take stronger action.
Current standards that require upgrading
engines and installing exhaust filters on older diesel-powered trucks
are providing significant reductions in particulate matter and
smog-forming nitrogen oxides,
and are a necessary step. But these actions are only beginning to
address the problem. An analysis by state and regional air-quality
officials shows that we need a nearly 90 percent reduction in nitrogen
oxide emissions in some parts of the state to reach air-quality
standards over the next two decades.
A report to be released
Tuesday and commissioned by the California Cleaner Freight Coalition,
“Moving California Forward: Zero and Low-Emissions Freight Pathways,”
identifies cleaner freight alternatives that can reduce emissions well
beyond today’s cleanest diesel and natural gas trucks. The study finds
that strategies such as powering short-haul trucks with clean
electricity could simultaneously benefit regional air quality and
dramatically reduce climate-change emissions, while eliminating tailpipe
emissions in communities most affected by truck traffic.
For regional trips, moving goods by train and ship using the cleanest
engine technologies can reduce emissions compared to today’s cleanest
diesel trucks, though any move toward greater rail or ship use must
ensure the health of communities surrounding railyards and ports.
The California Air Resources Board
has been considering undertaking a Sustainable Freight Transport
Initiative for the past year. Now is the time for action. California
needs a long-term plan to transform how we move essential goods around
the Golden State.
Because infrastructure built in the near future on highways, railyards
and port terminals will last for decades, it is critical to plan now for
deploying cleaner conventional and advanced technologies in the freight
sector. A robust plan that identifies key freight strategies for
meeting state public health and climate goals will help guide technology
and infrastructure investments over the coming decades.
Modernizing California’s pollution-intensive freight-transportation system
will not happen overnight. But it is a challenge worth facing to
provide clean air to breathe, protect the health of all communities,
meet California’s climate goals, and keep the state’s economy strong.
Let’s get moving.