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Charting a Course to Transform California’s Freight System

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Last Friday, the first of three freight policy forums was held in Sacramento. The series is exploring some of the strategies to address the impacts of California’s freight and goods movement system on air quality, climate, and community health with researchers, policy makers, and other experts to inform better policy. 

UCS, along with our co-hosts UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment and the Economy and the Institute for Transportation Studies, hosted the first session, The Role of Freight Transportation in Achieving Clean Air, Climate Goals, Economic Growth, and Healthy Communities in California, which focused on the key motivations for transforming the freight sector, from air quality and climate change, to public health and a strong economy.

The speakers included myself; Jack Kitowski Assistant Chief of the Stationary Source Division for the California Air Resources Board; and Professor of Preventive Medicine, Dr. Ed Avol from the University of Southern California. The speakers presented a compelling story of why, despite progress in reducing diesel pollution from the freight sector over the past decade, transformational change is needed to meet our long term air quality, energy, and climate change goals.

Some key points made in the presentations include:

Dr. Ed Avol of USC School of Preventive Medicine speaks about the role of freight pollution on public health.

Dr. Ed Avol of USC’s Department of Preventive Medicine speaks about the role of freight pollution on public health.

  • Communities near rail yards, sea ports, airports, warehousing, and freeways experience the most direct health risks from freight pollution, while poor regional air quality affects an even greater number of people. Research has linked air pollution with low birth weights, heart rate variability, hospital admissions, asthma, cancer, pneumonia, heart attacks, and much more.
  • Global warming emissions in every sector of the freight system, including trucks, rail, ships, and aircraft, are expected to increase substantially over the next 20 years unless investments are made to improve efficiency and commercialize innovative solutions.
  • Upcoming federal air quality deadlines in 2023 and 2032 can not be achieved through improved diesel emission controls alone. Even if trucks in the near future achieved emissions 80 percent below the cleanest truck standards today, California won’t achieve healthy air. Zero-tailpipe emission solutions will need to be part of California’s freight system.
  • Freight accounts for one quarter of the nation’s oil consumption, leaving shipping companies and consumers vulnerable to spikes in international oil markets.
  • Freight congestion is expected to increase rapidly as population grows and demand for goods increases in the coming decades.

So what technologies are likely to provide the emission reductions we need?

In this week’s forum, on Friday April 26, we’ll be looking at the technologies that can be applied to trucks and trains to reduce air pollution, lower climate change emissions, and discussing what policies are needed to get us on the right track to meet the challenges described in last weeks forum. On May 10, the final forum will explore how regions are planning to modernize the freight systems.

To join us in Sacramento on Friday, April 26 or Friday, May 10 you can RSVP to the sessions here. If you can’t attend we will be posting video of the presentations after the events and you can find links to the presentations here.

Hope to see you there!

Posted in: Global Warming, Vehicles Tags: ,

About the author: Don Anair is a senior engineer with expertise on diesel, hybrid and battery electric vehicle, and goods movement technologies and the policies needed to turn them into real solutions for U.S. oil dependence, air pollution and global warming. He holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering. See Don's full bio.

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