A Call for Environmental Justice: A Call for "Zero"

I was proud to be part of a panel discussion last week where environmental justice advocates called for "zero"--zero diesel, zero pollution and zero asthma from our freight transportation system.

The panel discussion occurred at a meeting of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), and included community voices articulating concerns over diesel emissions from freight operations--the pollution created by the trucks, ships and locomotives that move our nation's cargo from the ports to our doorsteps. Members of the panel included Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, Coalition for Healthy Ports, Ironbound Community Corporation, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services and NRDC, which are members of the Moving Forward Network. (Check out last week's street theater performance calling for "zero" here.)

More than 13 million people live near this country's major marine ports and railyards--more than 3.5 million of which are children. Millions more live near busy truck thoroughfares and distribution centers. Study after study show that such individuals are exposed to harmful levels of diesel air pollution. They experience increased risk of cancer, premature death and incidences of asthma, and they are predominantly low-income and people of color.

The Moving Forward Network is calling EPA to act--to get to "zero" by identifying the communities most impacted by freight operations and by developing plans that will require use of cleaner, zero-emission technologies. More specifically, EPA should:

  • Identify the harm from freight operations as a top priority in its EJ 2020 Plan
  • Identify communities most impacted by freight and prioritize these communities for clean-up
  • Create a roadmap for cleaner freight movement that includes short- and long-term initiatives, including a commitment to develop new regulations that will make trucks, locomotives and ships cleaner
  • Direct states--especially those with regions that violate federal air quality standards and have major freight hubs--to adopt more air pollution measures, including measures that require zero-emission technologies for freight movement
  • Continue developing the research that makes the case--if it wasn't already abundantly clear--that cleaning up this industry must be a top priority

From Los Angeles and Long Beach, Houston to Chicago, and Kansas City to Newark, diesel emissions are taking a toll on community health. This is a nationwide problem that needs national leadership. NRDC stands with the Moving Forward Network to ask EPA to help move to Zero.

About the Authors

Melissa Lin Perrella

Senior Director, Environmental Justice, Healthy People & Thriving Communities program

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.