An Urgency to Clean Up Illinois’ Dirty Air

Leaders call on Gov. Pritzker to adopt clean truck rules after historic unhealthy air days 

As the acrid smell of Canadian wildfire smoke has barely left the nostrils of people in Chicago and Illinois, local leaders and advocates joined forces today to call on Governor Pritzker to enact clean truck rules to reduce harmful pollution. 

Leaders and advocates, part of the Neighbors for an Equitable Transition to Zero-Emissions coalition, addressed how adopting the Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) and Omnibus Low Nitrogen Oxides (LowNOx) rules will protect workers and communities from air pollution while improving public health.  

“Dirty air has plagued Illinois’ communities for far too long,” said José Miguel Acosta-Córdova, senior transportation policy analyst at the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO). “In Little Village, we’re currently fighting to block an expansion of the I-55 highway, a project we were not actively engaged on even though the added toll lanes will increase traffic and exacerbate the community’s already poor air quality. We should not have to keep fighting to breathe clean air while thousands of heavy-duty trucks pass through our neighborhoods on any given day. We are counting on the governor to enact ACT and LowNOx rules as soon as possible.” 

Recent record-breaking spikes in dangerous air pollutants from wildfire smoke underscore the urgent need for regulations to address the outsized impacts of diesel pollution on air quality, which underpinned the unhealthy air days Illinoisans suffered in June. The health impacts of diesel pollution in Illinois are well documented. Fossil fuel-powered trucks emit fine particulate pollution (PM) and smog-forming gasses (NOx). These pollutants lead to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases—including asthma, lung cancer, heart attacks, and strokes—and can cause premature death.   

“Pregnant people and infants suffer severe health impacts from air pollution including low birth weight and early birth. And young children are also at risk from the diesel fumes, such as those from school buses,” said Dr. Regina Gomez, a board-certified OB/GYN and member of Illinois Clinicians for Climate Action. “The technology for electric trucks is already here. Now we have a choice: to breathe dirty air that makes people sick, or to reduce diesel pollution. It’s up to Governor Pritzker to make a good choice and protect these vulnerable populations by enacting the clean truck safeguards.” 

“People who live, work, or go to school closer to highways, warehouses, intermodal rail, truck freight facilities, loading docks, and fleet garages are more likely to be affected by diesel engine pollution,” said Mark Balentine a Worker Organizer with Warehouse Workers for Justice. “Warehouse workers are breathing these toxic fumes day in and day out. Workers deserve to do their critical jobs without putting their health on the line. And that’s why we need the Governor to help protect workers and enact the Clean Truck rules.” 

Climate change and global warming have caused months of weather extremes across the country. In Illinois, transportation is the biggest contributor to climate change. Transportation emissions are also a leading driver of dangerous ozone and particulate matter pollution in the state, a constant threat that contributed to Chicago experiencing the worst air quality globally last month. 

“Climate change exacerbates the threat of extreme heat and wildfires, both of which compound existing air quality issues here in Illinois,” said Anastasia Montgomery, a PhD Candidate of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Northwestern University. “Enacting these clean truck safeguards will increase our climate resilience while also ensuring an equitable transition to zero-emission trucks that will benefit the communities most impacted. The urgency of this work cannot be overstated. That’s why we are asking the Governor to act now.” 

By adopting two foundational clean truck regulations, Illinois could generate net societal benefits of roughly $26 billion through 2050. So says an independent analysis by the Environmental Resources Management (ERM) Group evaluating the impact of the Advanced Clean Trucks and Heavy-Duty Omnibus rules in Illinois. 

“Our climate cannot wait; our communities cannot wait. Governor Pritzker, you have the power to implement clean truck rules in Illinois,” said J.C. Kibbey, senior Illinois clean energy advocate at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “You have the power to give us cleaner air to breathe, a healthier climate to pass to our children. We ask you today to use that power.” 

The live-stream of the press conference is available here:

Neighbors for an Equitable Transition to Zero-Emissions is a community-focused, diverse, growing coalition working to get Illinois to adopt the Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) and Heavy-Duty Low-NOx Omnibus (HDO) rules. The coalition believes zero-emission trucks, buses, and delivery vans are Illinois’s transportation future.  

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