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Clean Cargo

A trail of exhaust stretches from manufacturers abroad, through our ports, along our rail yards and drifts up from freeways as goods are moved from one place to another. Freight transportation hubs may help deliver the products that fill our stores and homes, but for those who live near them -- disproportionately low-income communities of color -- finding ways to clean up cargo is truly as important as the air we breathe. In fact, more than 13 million Americans (3.5 million of whom are children) live near major marine ports or rail yards, and proximity to that polluted air leads to health issues from aggravated asthma, to lung cancer, and even premature death.

Fortunately, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) offers communities public oversight over federal or federally-funded projects that will affect the environment -- including construction projects, permit approvals, and funding decisions involving ports, rail yards, and highways. NEPA gives the public a voice and brings the people's business out of the shadows and into the light of public scrutiny.

Dozens of measures can be incorporated in new freight projects or applied to existing railyards, port terminals and distribution centers to improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions. Cleaner and more efficient new engines can cut soot and smog-forming emissions and save fuel. In many cases, activities using diesel engines can be electrified. The use of more efficient modes, such as shipping goods by train where possible (using locomotives meeting the cleanest standards) instead of by truck, can make a big difference. Finally, any fossil fuel burning engine that remains in use can have modern exhaust controls added to filter out most pollution.


Defend Your Air

Use NEPA to Protect Your Community

Defend Your Air is NRDC's guide to reducing air pollution caused by freight transport and is designed to help communities master the NEPA process to limit air pollution. Participants in the NEPA process are able to contribute information about a project, suggest alternatives, and argue that more needs to be done to reduce a given project's negative impacts.

En Español

Clean Cargo Toolkit

Improve Your Local Air Quality

Find out how to achieve clean cargo measures and who is already using these measures in our Clean Cargo Toolkit. NRDC's Clean Cargo series provides details about the health effects from air pollution created by freight transport, as well as recommendations for and examples of clean cargo reforms already being enacted in communities throughout the United States.

En Español

Zero and Low-Emissions Freight Pathways

Moving California Forward

The California Cleaner Freight Coalition -- including NRDC and at least 20 other organizations working towards transformational changes to the freight transportation system in California to protect the public's health, clean the environment, and promote social justice and equity -- commissioned this report to compare conventional diesel-based transportation to lower emission and advanced technology alternatives for both shorter and longer trips. The analysis helps answer a key question for those planning the future of the state's freight system: what are the alternatives to conventional diesel vehicles that offer the greatest air quality, health and climate benefits, measured in reduced emissions of particulate matter (PM2.5), oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and greenhouse gases (GHG)?

Other Resources

last revised 10/15/2013

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