Agreement To Clean Up California Freight Pollution

Ships, trucks and trains to clean up their act under new plan.

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At Earthjustice, we are resolved to clean up the air in California. This, of course, is no small feat. A 2012 analysis by the California Air Resources Board found that the state will have to transform its transportation sector away from fossil fuels and toward zero-emission vehicles, among other steps, to meet federal clean air standards.

While identifying the need was an important step, the state has been slow to act. That is where we come in. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of Earthjustice and its partners in the California Cleaner Freight Coalition and the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition, CARB made a significant, though belated, New Year’s Resolution: it committed to developing a strategy to reduce emissions from freight by the end of this year.

These emissions include soot and other pollutants that ships, trucks, rail cars and other equipment emit while transporting the goods we buy to our homes. The freight sector is responsible for almost 70 percent of the soot and nearly half of the NOx emitted by diesel engines in California. Diesel soot has been linked to asthma, heart disease and cancer, while NOx emissions contribute to the formation of both soot and ozone and must be reduced to meet clean air standards.

A meaningful transformation of the freight system would benefit everyone in California—especially those communities bordering the freeways, ports, distribution centers and rail yards that make up our freight system. One of these communities is Delano, a town in the southern San Joaquin Valley. Truck traffic rumbles through town on Highway 99. Fields of grapevines and almond trees ring the town, drawing even more truck traffic to haul away crops that eventually will be shipped across the country and around the world.

While others reap the benefits of these goods, people in Delano and similar communities suffer the effects of soot and exhaust, which contribute to the notoriously poor air quality in the region. This pollution turns something as simple as going out for a run into a risky act.

Just ask Valerie Gorospe, an organizer for the Center for Race, Poverty, & the Environment in Delano, and the mother of three active children. She says that on bad air days, her seventeen year old son comes back from a run and says, “Mom, I feel like my lungs are burning.” But, as a football player, he has to be outside, even on those dangerously poor air quality days.

Oftentimes her daughter Emily, who suffers from valley fever, has had to miss her son’s football games because of the air quality. Emily and Valerie instead would sit in the car during the games. “I felt so bad about that,” Valerie says, but she couldn’t risk the harm to her daughter’s health. For families like Valerie’s, changing the way goods are moved in California is a necessary step toward regaining the freedom to go about their everyday lives without fearing for their health.

As we all know, the key to resolutions is keeping them. CARB can rest assured that Earthjustice and our partners will be there to make sure that the agency sticks to its resolutions and, by the end of this year, creates a meaningful strategy to transition California to a clean freight system.

Adenike was the Sr. Research & Policy Analyst / Advocacy Representative for the California regional office in San Francisco, CA, from 2012–2018. She analyzed technical data and policy to support litigation and administrative advocacy focused on air quality, clean energy, and environmental health.

The California Regional Office fights for the rights of all to a healthy environment regardless of where in the state they live; we fight to protect the magnificent natural spaces and wildlife found in California; and we fight to transition California to a zero-emissions future where cars, trucks, buildings, and power plants run on clean energy, not fossil fuels.