Sustainable Freight Action Plan: A Step in the Right Direction

I recall that my childhood was scattered with days of not playing outside because the school declared the air unhealthy and like “snow days” of the east coast “smog days” became a day of indoor play here in Southern California. This was due largely because of the goods movement industry. Every day, several times a day, freight trucks carrying goods to be delivered throughout the state account for half of diesel particulate matter emissions and approximately 45% of smog-forming emissions of nitrogen oxides in California. Total emissions of these pollutants have declined over the years thanks to air quality policies. However, the impacts of ongoing pollution continues to fall almost entirely in low-income communities of color that surround freight hubs and corridors considered “hot spots.” Thankfully, California is moving in the right direction to change that with today’s release of the California Sustainable Freight Action Plan (SFAP).

One year ago, Governor Jerry Brown made a commitment to address the challenge of the freight sector to reduce statewide emissions by asking state agencies to develop an integrated freight plan collaboratively issuing Executive Order B-32-15. More specifically, the Executive Order stated that, “Future investments to upgrade freight vehicles and infrastructure should utilize technologies, energy sources, and fuels that enable greater transportation efficiency while reducing community and environmental impacts”.

The reason for this specific focus on EJ communities is best described by Taylor Thomas, of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice:

“As a child, having trucks pass through your streets, the rotten smells, and brown skies was normal to me. This was normal to my neighbors, and these conditions persist today. When I was diagnosed with asthma at age seven, where I lived was never discussed as a factor in my condition. Now, I understand that breathing filthy, diesel-choked air played a role in my asthma. The asthma limited my activities at home and at school. My mother and I made many trips to the doctor over the years, and it wasn’t until I moved out the area as an adult that my health improved.”

Today, the SFAP was realized as a product of the Governors’ directive. This coordinated, multi-agency approach should be heralded as it is the first of its kind and should be emulated as California grapples with a variety of other climate change, transportation and environmental problems. The SFAP set out to establish clear strategies to meet the state’s sustainability targets and move California’s freight system toward a more equitable, efficient and competitive future.

The Plan emphasizes the importance of collaborative efforts and strong partnerships between agencies, industry and stakeholders. A lot of hard work goes into getting things like this signed, sealed and delivered. CCA along with other stakeholders, and as a part of the California Cleaner Freight Coalition (CCFC), took on shaping the vision of the Plan and were instrumental in providing feedback to the agencies at workshops and public hearings held all over California in cities like Los Angeles, Sacramento, Riverside and Stockton.

In countless meetings with the Governor’s Office and key agency officials, CCFC member groups requested to eliminate freight pollution hot spots and make human health impacts a higher priority. Specifically, community members asked for actions that prioritize the most impacted communities in the implementation of incentives and enforcement of existing regulations

This is why the SFAP has great potential to do what prior goods movement plans have failed to do: meaningfully address the urgent public health needs by reducing freight emissions through agency actions and infrastructure investments.

CCA believes that this was a central objective of the Governor’s Executive Order B-32-15. Overall, the action plan to address freight pollution is a step in the right direction, but it continues to be a challenge and will need to be more ambitious to succeed. This Plan marks the end of the Coalitions multi-year effort to bring attention to equity and environmental justice as it relates to the freight sector, and now the next chapter begins to ensure state agencies implement the Plan to the fullest extent possible.  The goal for CCA remains the same, to ensure that the communities impacted the most by freight pollution see meaningful improvements in their air quality, health, and well-being.

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