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May 7, 2021

Southern California’s Air District Votes to Electrify and Clean Up Air Pollution from Mega-Warehouses

California’s goods movement industry is headed toward an electric future

Contacts

Zoe Woodcraft, zwoodcraft@earthjustice.org, (818) 606-7509

Rachel Boyer, rachel.boyer@sierraclub.org

Anthony Victoria, anthony.v@pc4ej.org, (909) 637-6369

Southern California

This afternoon, after seven years of frontline community activism, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) passed the Warehouse Indirect Source Rule (ISR) to address the region’s serious air quality problems by cutting pollution from the trucks traveling to and from warehouses, electrifying warehouses, and creating local clean energy jobs. The new regulation is a key step in eliminating toxic emissions from one of the nation’s largest and most profitable industries. 

The South Coast Air Basin, which covers Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties, is home to some of the worst air quality in the country, largely due to a rapidly expanding freight industry with mega warehouses. The majority of these warehouses are not placed in areas where online shopping is done, meaning those who are closest to warehouses disproportionately suffer negative health impacts and are the most physically harmed by the pollution pumped out of diesel equipment and trucks.

“The decision by the AQMD to support this rule sets a precedent that will make sure the booming logistics industry cleans up their act to bring zero emissions to frontline communities of color,” said Graciela Larios Mendez, a longtime community organizer and member of the People’s Collective for Environmental Justice. “A lot of work remains to address the systemic impacts of the logistics industry’s activity, but this Indirect Source Rule for warehouses will guarantee that Southern California’s environmental justice communities receive the clean air benefits they deserve.”

The electrification and other clean air solutions under the new regulation will deliver health benefits worth up to $2.7 billion, and save up to 300 lives and prevent up to 5,800 asthma attacks in the region. The investments will also have positive benefits for workers — an estimated 20,000 fewer sick days taken thanks to cleaner air inside and outside of the warehouses. 

“Squinting through the smog, California is charting a better future for the sake of our lungs — and that future is a zero emissions goods movement industry. This new regulation is a breakthrough for Southern Californians who’ve been exposed to the diesel pollution from a rapidly expanding goods movement industry for decades.” said Adrian Martinez, staff attorney on Earthjustice’s Right to Zero campaign. “The health benefits will be immense, but the Indirect Source Rule is just the beginning. The way we move goods in this country has got to be electric, for the sake of clean air and a breathable future.”

As the pandemic continues, the goods delivery and warehouse industry has boomed. Big box retailers like Amazon have tripled their Southern California logistics hubs, and communities in Long Beach, South East Los Angeles, and cities in the Inland Region have endured the worst impacts of this poor air quality and rapid expansion of mega-warehouses. The pandemic has only exacerbated the environmental injustice that these communities experience from goods movement and other pollution sources. Studies now demonstrate the risk of death and hospitalization from respiratory illnesses like COVID-19 increases with an individual’s prior exposure to air pollution. 

“There is no vaccine for air pollution. So preventing air pollution in the first place is the only responsible public health response. Passing the Warehouse ISR is the SCAQMD upholding their commitment to protecting our air quality and health by reigning in emissions and pollution from warehouses,” said California Deputy of the My Generation Campaign, Carlo De La Cruz. “Southern Californians have been breathing some of the dirtiest air in the nation for decades. As we enter into another smoggy summer season, the passage and implementation of this rule is cause for celebration. Thanks to local community leaders and the SCAQMD Governing Board, communities that have been infested by warehouses will finally see some relief and hopefully some clear summer skies ahead.”

This rule comes at a critical time as industry analysts expect online shopping and e-commerce habits to continue well after the pandemic fades. This rule would also be the first in the nation to apply to existing warehouse facilities larger than 100,000 square feet. Approximately 3,000 facilities in the South Coast will be covered by the new rule.

Although some in the industry claim it is not affordable to electrify warehouses and fleets, through the ISR businesses will see fuel savings and maintenance costs in the form of newly installed solar panels and less expensive refueling costs for their vehicles moving in and out of their warehouses. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) estimates that a Class 8 electric truck will cost 4.7 cents a mile less to maintain than its diesel counterpart.

“The Indirect Source Rule ushers in a new era in Southern California environmental policy — one that prioritizes human lives over profits and improves the quality of our air, water, and health while creating quality green jobs,” said Kathy Hoang, Senior California Campaign Manager for the Partnership for Working Families. “Warehouses will remain an important part of our region’s economy, but because workers and communities joined forces to demand cleaner, safer communities for their families and their kids, corporations like Amazon will begin to take greater responsibility for our health and precious natural resources.”

The passage of Southern California’s Indirect Source Rule comes on the heels of the landmark $47 million settlement agreement to heavily electrify the largest proposed warehouse development in the world, the World Logistics Center, last week. Located in Southern California's Inland Empire region, the developer will provide funds to aid in purchasing 680 new electric trucks, which must be used within the region so local residents receive air quality relief from diesel pollution. The settlement provides up to $12.1 million for heavy-duty electric trucks alone. The developer will also provide a thousand $1,000 electric vehical (EV) grants for local residents to purchase electric cars, install 1,080 EV chargers for passenger vehicles on site, and build enough rooftop solar to meet 50% of the development's electricity demand.

Warehouses bump up against homes in the Inland Empire.

Vast warehouses bump up against homes in Southern California.

DAVID MCNEW / THE NEW YORK TIMES

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