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Moving California Forward: Cleaning up Freight in the Golden State

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Can California move more freight while cutting carbon emissions, improving air quality, cutting oil use, and protecting the health of communities near rail yards, warehouses, and ports? A new report released today by a diverse coalition of groups in California, including UCS, examines technologies and strategies to do just that.

Source: The Port of Los Angeles

Source: The Port of Los Angeles

Why the focus on freight in California?

California is known both for its poor air quality and consequently, its clean transportation policies that have helped drive development of emission control technologies, alternative fuels, and vehicle electrification technologies. The air across California is cleaner than it once was, but there are still too many communities where it is unhealthy. Existing state policies—particularly for freight transportation—are insufficient to meet upcoming federal air quality deadlines.

At the same time, global warming emissions from freight vehicles are expected to grow in the coming decades. Most importantly, even as the emissions from new diesel engines are reduced, the concentration of trucks, trains, ships, and other diesel powered equipment in certain locations, like rail yards and ports, means these communities continue to suffer from unhealthy levels of pollution.

What can be done about it?

The new analysis, “Moving California Forward: Zero and Low-Emissions Freight Pathways,” identifies cleaner freight alternatives that can reduce emissions well beyond today’s cleanest diesel and natural gas trucks. The study finds that strategies such as powering short-haul trucks with clean electricity could simultaneously benefit regional air quality and dramatically reduce climate change emissions, while eliminating tailpipe emissions in communities most impacted by truck traffic. For regional trips, moving goods by train and ship using the cleanest engine technologies can reduce emissions compared to today’s cleanest diesel trucks, though any move toward greater rail or ship must ensure the health of communities surrounding rail yards and ports.

These are just a few of the strategies that have the potential to improve air quality, reduce climate change emissions, and improve the health of communities most impacted by freight pollution in the coming years.

What’s next?

California has a proven track record for taking innovative actions to tackle pollution. That same vision is necessary now to begin a transition to a more efficient freight system, one that relies on cleaner alternatives to our current diesel-powered transportation system, and that effectively and efficiently moves the goods we use every day.

Just as there is no silver bullet to reduce emissions and oil use from our passenger cars, there’s no silver bullet for freight transportation either. Strategies like making new trucks more efficient and emit less carbon through performance standards as well as California’s policies to accelerate deployment of diesel emission control technologies are delivering benefits now. Strategies such as developing and deploying electric trucks and improving freight efficiency through better infrastructure and planning may take longer to implement, but are vital to ensuring a robust freight system that protects public health, cuts oil use, and meets our climate change challenge in the years ahead.

freight flows

The flow of freight transported to, from, and within California by trucks.

With California a leading U.S. freight hub (Southern California ports alone bring in about 40% of the nation’s containerized imports, which are distributed across the country–the extent of which is highlighted in the map.) and continuing to tackle some of the worst air quality in the nation, it makes sense to be taking the lead on implementing cleaner freight strategies. The Air Resources Board is in the process of developing a Sustainable Freight Initiative to identify what steps are needed to take our freight system into the 21st century. It’s no small undertaking, but now’s the right time to be moving forward with a concrete commitment and a clear roadmap for cleaner freight.

For further information and to access the report documents, please use the links below:

Moving California Forward – Executive Summary by the California Cleaner Freight Coalition

Moving California Forward – Report by Gladstein, Neandross and Associates

Moving California Forward – Technical Appendix by Gladstein, Neandross, and Associates

Posted in: Vehicles

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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