New Report Sets a Course for Cleaner Freight Transportation in California

Electrification is a key strategy for reducing air pollution that harms health and contributes to climate change .

Published Jan 21, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO (January 21, 2013) – A report released today outlines solutions for overhauling the state’s freight system to protect public health, meet air quality standards and slow the pace of climate change. Freight transportation in California creates air pollution that harms the health of communities exposed to its dangerous emissions and contributes to global warming.

The new study commissioned by the California Cleaner Freight Coalition, Moving California Forward, Zero and Low-Emissions Freight Pathways, evaluates strategies for modernizing how goods are moved through California. By evaluating alternatives to conventional diesel vehicles, the analysis aims to inform a statewide plan for cleaning up freight transportation.

The key report findings include:

  • Deploying electric transportation technologies that are currently in development or demonstration for local and short-haul trips would provide the greatest overall reduction in pollutants, and could eliminate tailpipe emissions in communities impacted by freight movement.
  • Moving goods by train and ship for regional trips could reduce emissions well beyond today’s cleanest diesel trucks.
  • Transporting containers double-stacked on railcars powered by the cleanest locomotives can reduce particulate matter, nitrogen oxide, and greenhouse gas emissions by more than 75 percent.
  • Compared to the newest trucks, transporting truck trailers on flatbed railcars through the San Joaquin Valley would significantly reduce emissions in a region that suffers from high levels of pollution.

The Coalition cautions that any shift in freight movement to rail or ship, while providing regional pollution benefits, would need to ensure reduction in emissions, exposure, and health risks to those communities close to rail yards, rail lines, ports and shipping lanes.

“Low income, working class and communities of color disproportionately suffer health problems from air pollution from freight transport, and we have a right to clean air and healthy communities,” said Maricela Mares Alatorre, a resident of Kettleman City in the San Joaquin Valley where residents have suffered from high rates of birth defects and childhood cancer and many pollution sources including from freight transport along Interstate 5 and Highway 41.

“The cost of cleaning up the trucking and freight industry in California is nothing compared to the lost lives, elevated cancer risk, chronic respiratory conditions and other costs Californians have shouldered for years,” said Margaret Gordon, co-director of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project. “Low-income communities, in particular, are paying with their health to allow the freight industry to do business in California.”

“It is critical that California has a clear plan to clean up our freight industry in 2014,” said Jesse Marquez, executive director of Californians for a Safe Environment. “As our report shows, our air pollution problem is so bad that communities from around the state are uniting to take on the issue. Moving to electrification and zero emission transportation technologies can literally save lives.”

Transforming the freight system is a large undertaking that will not happen overnight, which is why it is crucial that California’s Air Resources Board identify and implement long-term strategies to move our freight system into the 21st century.

“Moving our freight system off of polluting fossil fuels with clean electric power will result in faster cargo delivery without the pervasive pollution affecting some of the most vulnerable communities living along these polluted corridors,” said Diane Bailey, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We should build electric power into our existing freight systems however we can.”

“We don’t have to sacrifice economic success to achieve air quality, health and climate benefits,” said Don Anair, research and deputy director for the Clean Vehicles Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Emerging technologies are presenting an opportunity to transform conventional freight vehicles into a low-carbon transportation system that cleans our air and reduces our oil consumption.”

Many of the report’s proposals can be achieved with technologies that are either available today or can be commercialized over the next several years—with appropriate investments and support from policymakers. The California Cleaner Freight Coalition urges the California Air Resources Board to adopt a sustainable freight plan in 2014.

Regional contacts are also available:

(Central Valley) Maricela Mares Alatorre, El Pueblo/People for Clean Air & Water of Kettleman City, 559-816-9298, [email protected]

(Central Valley) Thomas Helme, Valley Improvement Projects, 209-324-6414, [email protected]

(Los Angeles) Jesse Marquez, Coalition for a Safe Environment, 310-704-1265, [email protected]

(Bay Area) Margaret Gordon, West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, 510-257-5640, [email protected] 

(San Diego) Joy Williams, Environmental Health Coalition, 619-474-0220 x110, [email protected]


The mission of the California Cleaner Freight Coalition is to create transformational changes to the freight transportation system in California in order to protect the public’s health, clean the environment, and promote social justice and equity. We are a collaborative partnership of organizations committed to an inclusive membership, honest dialogue, respect for differences, and transparent decision-making. The Coalition includes grassroots environmental justice, environmental, science, and health groups.

American Lung Association in California, Bay Area Healthy 880 Communities, Breathe California, Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, Central Valley Air Quality Coalition, Coalition for a Safe Environment, Coalition for Clean Air, Comite Civico Del Valle, Communities for a Better Environment, Ditching Dirty Diesel Collaborative, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, Environmental Health Coalition, Global Community Monitor, GreenAction, LAANE, Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pacific Institute, People for Clean Air & Water of Kettleman City, Regional Asthma Management & Prevention, Sierra Club California, Union of Concerned Scientists, Valley Improvement Projects, West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project