Photo: Luis Castilla

How Freight Impacts Communities Across California

, senior vehicles analyst | September 19, 2017, 3:51 pm EDT
Bookmark and Share

Today, UCS and the California Cleaner Freight Coalition (CCFC) released a video highlighting the impacts of freight across California. This video – and longer cuts of individual interviews here – touch on the many communities across California affected by freight.

Freight is a big industry in California. Nearly 40 percent of cargo containers entering and leaving the United States pass through California ports. California is also the largest agricultural producing state, supplying nearly one fifth of the country’s dairy, one third of the country’s vegetables, and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts.

Truck traffic on I-5 heading north towards the Central Valley near Castaic, CA.

Farm in Shafter, CA.

This means California is home to many ports, rail yards, warehouses, distribution centers, farms, and dairies – all of which are serviced by many trucks. Despite the latest (2010) engine standards and significant financial investments by the state and local air districts, air quality in California remains among the worst in the United States, due in large part to truck emissions.

Cities with the most air pollution in the United States. Source: American Lung Association, State of the Air 2016.

Communities impacted by freight are often burdened by other sources of pollution

In the Central Valley, a trash incinerator is opposed by community groups yet classified by the state as a source of renewable energy. Biomass power plants emit significant amounts of particulate matter. Oil drilling operations contribute to both air pollution and unknown water contamination.

Dairies in the Valley contribute not only to methane emissions, but also to other health hazards including particulate matter (from reactions of ammonia in excrement with nitrogen oxides (NOx) from cars and trucks), smog/ozone (from reactions of NOx with volatile organic compounds produced by decomposing animal feed), and contamination of aquifers. Just like real estate prices drove dairies from the Inland Empire to the Central Valley, warehouses and distribution centers are following suit despite being 150 miles from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Silage (animal feed) pile near Shafter, CA.

Two views of a large Ross distribution center in Shafter, CA (measures over 1 mile around the building and 2 miles around the entire lot).

In the Los Angeles region, not only are roadways and the two ports major concerns for communities, but so are oil refineries and over 1,000 active oil drilling sites.

Most of these urban oil sites are within a few football fields of homes, schools, churches, and hospitals. Despite all of the “green” accolades bestowed on California, it is the 3rd largest oil producer in the United States after Texas and North Dakota.

Pumpjacks in California can be found next to farms, hospitals, and even In-N-Out.

So what’s the solution?

For trucks, we need stronger engine standards for combustion vehicles, commitments to and incentives for zero-emission vehicles, and roll-out of battery charging stations and hydrogen fueling stations with electricity and hydrogen from renewable energy.

Just last week, the California legislature passed bills (1) to get zero-emission trucks integrated to fleets owned by the state, and (2) allocating $895 million from cap and trade revenue for cleaner heavy-duty vehicles. The California Cleaner Freight Coalition is working on a range of solutions from the state to local level and UCS is proud to be a member of this coalition. Watch and share the video!

Photo: Luis Castilla
Photo: Jimmy O'Dea
Photo: Jimmy O'Dea
Photo: Jimmy O'Dea
Photos: Jimmy O'Dea
Photos: Jimmy O'Dea

Posted in: Uncategorized, Vehicles Tags: , , , , ,

Support from UCS members make work like this possible. Will you join us? Help UCS advance independent science for a healthy environment and a safer world.

Show Comments

Comment Policy

UCS welcomes comments that foster civil conversation and debate. To help maintain a healthy, respectful discussion, please focus comments on the issues, topics, and facts at hand, and refrain from personal attacks. Posts that are commercial, self-promotional, obscene, rude, or disruptive will be removed.

Please note that comments are open for two weeks following each blog post. UCS respects your privacy and will not display, lend, or sell your email address for any reason.

  • solodoctor

    Thanks, Jimmy, for taking the time to reply with more info to each of us. Your work is much appreciated!

  • Maybe California should just ban Freight altogether and see if that works for them.

    I am a native born Californian who no longer lives in the state and I am a truck driver.

    I am bewildered that you can publish such a document without breaking down what “freight” is and what it means to your day to day life. Like toilet paper, milk, coffee, water, yoga mats and kombucha.. Instead you want to make the public hate truck drivers more with this article that emphasizes spewing pollution.

    No Freight in your state means nothing at the corner store. NOTHING!

    • solodoctor

      Speaking for myself, I do NOT want to ban freight in Calif where I live. I rely on truckers like yourself to bring the kinds of consumer products you mentioned to me in a reliable and cost effective way.

      I do want freight, however, to move towards the use of renewable fuels and/or electric vehicles as quickly as possible in the coming years. This is because I want to reduce the levels of ozone and particulate matter because of the impact that these have on people living near highways, ports, and warehouses. These people suffer higher rates of asthma and other respiratory related problems because of the pollution. Even though my family and I do not live nearby such places as noted above there are two members of my family who live with asthma. Thus, freight has a problematic, and at times costly, impact on them at times during the year.

      We can pay for this via higher costs for freight which relies on renewable energy or via higher medical costs. The former is preferable to the latter, in my opinion.

      • solodoctor

        I just read the following on another blog:

        ‘A group of large corporations, including utilities and an international delivery company, launched a global campaign today to accelerate the shift to electric vehicles and away from gas- and diesel-powered transportation—which generates almost a quarter of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and has been the fastest growing emissions source.

        Since more than half of the cars on the road belong to companies, the new EV100 coalition could have a major impact.’

        More can be found at:

        So progress can be made in a way that does not interfere with freight here in the USA and abroad!

      • D. Quinn

        I do believe they are looking to DRIVERLESS trucks………… sad. Another honest worker industry being put down the tubes. and out of work. And about this article, they never metnion that the trucks that come in from Mexico under NAFTA agreement do NOT have to meet the same tough regulations and standards that US trucks do….totally wrong on so many levels.

      • Jimmy O’Dea

        Hi D. Quinn, Thanks for reading the blog. You may be interested in our work on self-driving cars. One of our seven principles for maximizing the benefits of self-driving vehicles is a just transition for workers whose employment opportunities decline with this technology, see:

        As for trucks from Mexico, this has been a contentious issue resulting from the NAFTA trade
        agreement. Up until 2015, trucks from Mexico were not allowed to operate beyond a 20 mile commercial zone in the United States, besides a couple of pilot projects under President George W. Bush and President Obama. In the 20 mile commercial zones, goods are transferred to domestic carriers. See the report by the Congressional Research Service on this topic here:

        Since 2015, truck operators from Mexico have been allowed to apply for the OP-1MX license to
        deliver goods past the 20 mile commercial zone, however, it appears there are few carriers from Mexico actually doing this, see here:

        For trucks from Mexico that do operate past the 20 mile commercial zone, they are only allowed to
        deliver goods from Mexico, not goods from within the United States, see Code of Federal Regulations §365.501(b):

        Regardless, trucks from Mexico must still meet California and federal emission standards. From the
        California Air Resources Board: “Each vehicle operating in California – including those in transit from Mexico, Canada, or any other state – must be equipped with engines that meet California
        and/or U.S. EPA or equivalent emission standards.”

        Furthermore, California’s Heavy-Duty Vehicle Inspection Program (HDVIP) “requires heavy-duty trucks and buses to be inspected for excessive smoke and tampering, and engine certification label
        compliance. Any heavy-duty vehicle traveling in California, including vehicles registered in other states and foreign countries, may be tested. Tests are performed by ARB inspection teams at border crossings, weigh stations, fleet facilities, and randomly selected roadside locations. Owners of trucks and buses found in violation are subject to minimum penalties starting at $300 per violation.”

      • Jimmy O’Dea

        Hi solodoctor, Thanks for the comment. It is exciting to see the commitments being made for clean
        vehicles by EV100 members.

      • Today’s trucks are cleaner than ever. Electric vehicles sound wonderful but infrastructure real estate is quite expensive. Poor metropolitan planning around ports and rail yards is why southern California is a mess in addition to geography.

        If you’ve read anything about what’s happening to the port drivers in California with regards to the shift of cost of the clean ports program to drivers you should see that selling the public a “dream” scenario without properly educating them results in the indentured servitude operations in Trucking that saddle the burden onot low wage workers.

        When “scientists” publish a skewed article like this it makes matters worse.

        Believe me, truck drivers would love to never have to fight California traffic to pick up freight in or near the ports and fight to get to the closest truck rest area which is all the way out in Ontario area.

        That would be a dream yet no MPO’s I’ve seen in California talking about this issue with real world logistics intelligence.

        Desiree Wood
        REAL Women in Trucking Inc
        Truck Driver

      • Jimmy O’Dea

        Hi Desiree, Thanks for the comment. Trucks are the single largest contributor to California’s smog.
        There’s nothing skewed about that.

        California is the only place in the country with regions in “extreme non-attainment” of clean air standards despite the progress we’ve made on reducing truck emissions to date, see:

        The good news is that clean technologies for trucks exist and are increasing in availability. The
        life cycle cost of owning an electric truck including reduced maintenance and fuel costs are drastically falling, and reaching parity with combustion technologies in some applications, see the thorough analysis by the California Air Resources Board, summarized on slide 49 here:

        The servitude type arrangements for truck drivers is unacceptable. Truck drivers, like all workers, deserve a living wage. For those not familiar with this issue, see Brett Murphy’s two-part series in USA Today:

      • I am very familiar with Brett Murphy’s piece in USA Today which is why I made the comment. I am also aware of the volume of port traffic in Southern California since I was born in Los Angeles, my Father was a commercial fisherman which means I spent much of my childhood in California ports, and I was the project manager of a national truck parking survey in which a section focused on port regions that have failed miserably to recognize that these freight hubs require enormous thought to transport cargo out of the region.

        The santa monica mountains (geography) factor into holding pollution in the region but let’s also take human responsibility since urban sprawl around industrial and agricultural areas represents a larger issue.

        Everyone wants to live by the ocean but the truth is that the rail line, the port (commerce) , the farms, were there way before the $900,000 home values for a shack. It reminds me of how residents of Anaheim protest Disneyland fireworks without recognizing he built that place in a rural area at the time.

        Now that the Panama canal expansion can allow large freight ships to bypass unfriendly California and many east coast ports have made themselves ready to receive them, perhaps this source of supply chain revenue shift will address port pollution concerns quicker than any other plan.

        The fact that no one cared to learn who was really suffering ( low wage port drivers) from the clean port initiative until Brett Murphy’s investigative series illustrates my point.

    • Jimmy O’Dea

      Hi TruckerDesiree, Thanks for reading the blog. We are working for clean freight, not no freight. The fact that 40% of cargo containers in the United States pass through California’s ports speaks to the amount of goods traveling through the state and the important role of truckers in moving these goods, as does the state’s position as the largest producer of agricultural goods. No hate for truckers from us. Cleaner trucks will reduce operators’ exposure to harmful pollutants
      as well as communities where trucks operate.