One of California’s Dirtiest Industries Must Clean up Its Act

State agency estimates that California’s freight industrial complex is responsible for 2,000 premature deaths from fine particulate pollution each year.


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On Thursday, the California Air Resources Board—the state agency charged with bringing clean air to Californians—heard a proposed plan from its staff on how to tackle the pernicious problem of freight pollution in California. The ships, trucks, trains and aircraft that move freight throughout California and into the rest of the country undoubtedly provide economic benefits to Californians. But, the report they presented highlights the underbelly of this economic progress through the immense health harms to millions of Californians. 

California’s air board estimates that 2,000 Californians die prematurely each year from the fine particulate pollution from the freight industry. Along with the hospitalizations and emergency room visits, this industry imposes more than $20 billion dollars in economic impacts each year from these deaths. The report also highlights new science showing health harms from breathing toxic diesel exhaust is up to 300% more dangerous to young children than we previously knew. These health costs are not currently being borne by the freight industry; rather families, health clinics and California taxpayers defray these costs.  

Unfortunately, the most impacted people tend to be low-income communities and communities of color closest to the major railyards, ports, warehouses and airports. The heavy toll placed on these neighborhoods has caused communities throughout California to stand up to this powerful industry. In fact, many health groups, grassroots community groups, and environmental groups, including Earthjustice, have banded together under the umbrella of the California Cleaner Freight Coalition to push a comprehensive solution to this health crisis. These groups are sick and tired of mourning deaths, seeing children rushed to the emergency room with asthma attacks, and watching this industry continue to make Californians sick. 

The coalition is pushing for zero emission equipment powered by renewable energy. While some may say this is science fiction, they are wrong. This is possible; it just requires leadership, and California must be that leader. Besides, companies like Long Beach Container Terminals are already showing this can work

The bright side is that the coalition is making progress. The proposed plan presented to the air board lays out part of a vision of how to move this industry from one that is addicted to filthy fuels to one that is powered by clean energy. Importantly, the plan proposes regulations to push zero emissions technologies. The plan needs to go further to bring clean air to Californians, so the coalition will continue to force our political leaders to address the crisis. California has played a significant role in pushing forward technology development for zero tailpipe emission passenger cars, and there is no reason it cannot be the leader in pushing zero-emission trucks and trains. 


Based in Los Angeles, Adrian works on clean air, clean energy, and healthy communities issues as a deputy managing attorney for Earthjustice's Right to Zero campaign. Follow him on Twitter @LASmogGuy.

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.