Southern California’s air quality woes are a well known fact, but not enough has been done to alleviate the problem. Today, NRDC filed a petition for review in the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, challenging EPA’s approval of the South Coast Air Basin motor vehicles emissions budgets. These budgets are supposed to tell EPA how the South Coast Air Basin is doing on its federally-required roadmap to cleaner air.
In our view, the report that EPA approved simply doesn’t go far enough to address air quality problems for our region. Surprisingly, it leaves 1.5 million people who live next to diesel-clogged freeways to shoulder the worst pollution effects with little or no relief. This is unacceptable. It’s why we filed our lawsuit today.
Last week, California’s Air Resource Board (CARB) released a major new study stating roughly three times as many people in California could die annually as a result of the state’s air pollution problems. CARB estimates that a lethal combination of tailpipe and smokestack emissions could kill 24,000 people a year, compared to CARB’s previous 8,200 estimate. CARB estimates that up to 6,500 Californians die each year as a result of pollution from goods movement within the state.
Most of the people affected by the public health issue that CARB highlights live near goods movement routes: ports and freeways. NRDC has worked for years to clean up cargo-carrying diesel ships and trucks. We have had some success, but not enough. And now even moderate measures such as banning the oldest, dirtiest trucks from the ports are under legal attack by industry. If industry wins, the premature death numbers will increase, as will the need for a clean air plan that gets us where we need to go on schedule.
Alarmists are saying that NRDC’s lawsuit will stall cleaning up our air. Not so: we are not challenging the South Coast Air District’s plan, but instead the District’s rosy report on where we are on the plan’s timeline. And there are measures available right now to get us back on track, such as strengthening and accelerating CARB’s proposed diesel truck rules.
In the long run, NRDC would like to see more cargo carried by rail and less by trucks; we would also like to see the elimination of fossil-fuel powered “drayage,” meaning the transportation of cargo containers from ships to rail yards. The Port of Los Angeles recently demonstrated an electric cargo truck that it has been developing; that truck, or something like it, is where we need to be going to meet the timeline and targets in the South Coast Air District’s plan.