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AQMD to tackle pollution from warehouses, rail yards, ports and airports, not everyone is happy

Historic approach gathering support, opposition

This article was first published June 27 on the Orange County Register

[Pic description] A lot filled with blue Amazon Fulfillment Center diesel trucks as seen along I-15 Freeway at Cantu-Galleano Ranch Rd. in Eastvale, Calif. South Coast Air Quality Management District will draw up rules to regulate warehouses. Environmental groups and citizens are expected at next AQMD Mobile Source Committee July 26 meeting. Photographed on Tuesday, June 25, 2019. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)


One of the more sweeping air pollution control measures in the history of Orange County and the urban portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties begin rolling out in July, setting up historic battles between Southern California residents and goods-movement companies in the four-county region.

South Coast Air Quality Management District regulations, along with softer measures, are aimed at curtailing what are considered indirect sources of disease-inducing smog: emissions from warehouses, shipping lanes, ports, airports and rail yards. The unusual approach is part of a three-year, herculean effort and is heading for approval later this year.

Smiling blue Amazon Fulfillment Center diesel trucks leave the Eastvale, Calif. warehouse on Tuesday, June 25, 2019. South Coast Air Quality Management District will draw up rules to regulate warehouses. Environmental groups and citizens are expected at next AQMD Mobile Source Committee July 26 meeting. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

While the AQMD doesn’t have direct authority over warehouses, trains, airports or even mobile sources, it is targeting facility operators to replace diesel-powered big rigs, trains and airport vehicles — which emit some of the most lung-damaging and planet-heating emissions into the air basin — with zero-emission sources, including: electric- or hydrogen-powered equipment.

Also, the air quality district has been negotiating with the twin ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to see more cleaner-burning trucks move goods across the region by offering incentives to fleet owners.

First targets are warehouses

Regular meetings with stakeholders have been taking place at AQMD headquarters in Diamond Bar since the governing board voted in May 2018 to begin developing both voluntary measures and regulations to rein in air pollution from indirect sources, including multiple Amazon mega-warehouses in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

Pressure is being applied by residents who live along the 10, 210, 15, 215, 710 and 110 freeways and are exposed to the bulk of diesel exhaust from trucks leaving the ports, traveling to warehouses, fulfillment centers and rail yards in eastern Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire.

Many environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, and neighborhood groups, such as the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice in Riverside, point out that this long-awaited measure represents a pivotal moment in the history of air pollution controls.

Historic, different approach

“I would say this is the biggest missing piece in air pollution reduction in the South Coast region,” Bill Magavern, policy director for the nonprofit Coalition For Clean Air, said in a recent interview from his Sacramento office. “We need to treat those facilities as the big sources of pollution they are.”

The AQMD is developing a rules-based approach for warehouses and rail yards, while memoranda of understanding are being promulgated for airports and shipping ports, according to documents obtained by this news group.

On July 26, the AQMD’s Mobile Source Committee will discuss the warehouse rule, considered the most substantial of the five-pronged approach. The AQMD intends to bring the five measures to the full governing board sometime in December, sources said. Some will need approval by the California Air Resources Board.

If adopted, these measures become part of its Air Quality Management Plan, which is required to show reductions in ozone, a lung-damaging pollutant created by sunlight, nitrogen oxides and fine particulates.

Momentum has been building since 2017, when the district first included indirect source pollution measures in its antismog plan. Still, some board members have expressed concerns the measures may damage the economy.

“We do expect opposition from the ports, railroads and airports,” Magavern said.

Replacing diesel trucks

There are about 2 million trucks transporting goods on California’s roadways, with about 500,000 in Southern California, Carlos De La Cruz of the Sierra Club’s My Generation campaign said.

Trucks generate more than three-fourths the nitrogen oxides emissions statewide, he said. These contribute to ozone, which damages the lungs, lowers resistance to diseases and causes wheezing and chest pain. “For such a small segment (of the overall number of vehicles), they present a big health risk,” De La Cruz said.

For the region to meet federal clean air standards for ground-level ozone by a 2023 deadline, the proposed AQMD measures will be needed. Likewise, the air quality district must meet a stricter, health-based standard by 2031. To reach these goals, emissions must be reduced by 45 percent by the first deadline and an additional 55 percent by the next.

“There are few moments in which we have to regulate the entire goods movement industry,” De La Cruz said. “This is an opportunity we won’t see again in the next 15 years.”

Regulations, incentives considered

Documents show the AQMD is considering concrete measures for cutting indirect pollution, but none is certain. For example, planning documents propose these rules for warehouses:

  • Each warehouse would be placed under an emissions cap of so many pounds per day of pollution that cannot be exceeded. Or, this can be accomplished by requiring emissions of nitrogen oxides and diesel particulates be kept below an established baseline. The document says if a cap is exceeded, trucks could be stopped at the gate and turned away.
  • Require warehouse operators to apply for funding to replace dirty diesel trucks. Those with clean fleets can generate and trade credits managed through a cap-and-trade bank.

Ports and airports would be encouraged to go greener with cooperative agreements, not regulatory measures.

For example, the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are working on a memorandum of understanding that would enable the AQMD to claim the ports’ pollution credits for satisfying EPA clean air requirements. This would come from voluntary programs that would swap out diesel drayage trucks that take goods from shipping containers to points east to hydrogen- or electric-powered, said Chris Cannon, Port of Los Angeles’ environmental director.

“The purpose of the MOU is to allow the AQMD to get credit for emission reductions that we get in our clean air actions. Those incentives will start next year,” Cannon said.

Since 2005, the port has required cleaner diesel-powered trucks and less-polluting diesel fuel, as well as a requirement to plug in ships at the port instead of keeping them idling to achieve a 85% reduction in diesel particulate matter, said Phillip Stanfield, spokesman for the Port of L.A.

A similar memorandum of understanding is being worked out between the AQMD and five Southern California commercial airports, asking for voluntary programs to “accelerate turn over of vehicles and equipment,”  such as zero-emission airport shuttles and luggage carts, documents show.

Will voluntary approach stick?

Environmental groups say the MOUs are weak and say the AQMD is dragging its feet. The AQMD did not provide responses, despite several requests for interviews.

“I am concerned the South Coast AQMD may be relying too much on incentives,” Magavern said. “We need real reductions that can be quantified, measured and enforced.”

Magavern worries that if a company is allowed to buy pollution credits earned elsewhere, that won’t help the people living along freeways chocked with truck traffic in Bloomington, Long Beach, Fontanta, Rialto, East Los Angeles, Pomona and Riverside.

“We would not support emissions trading,” he said. “If you live in Wilmington, you want emissions reduced right there at the port. It doesn’t do the same for someone buying trees (as part of a pollution trade).

Bottom line: Public health

“We have kids growing up with air pollution that is not healthy for them. It is an example of environmental injustice for low-income communities of color to breathe dirty air downwind from these diesel magnet sources, like ports, rail yards and warehouses,” Magavern added.

A May 21 study from the Journal of American Medical Association found any reduction in diesel particulate matter, especially fine particulates that can lodge deep into the lungs, “may be associated with decreased childhood asthma incidence,” according to the study.

“Really we are talking about local air pollution that has an immediate health impact,” De La Cruz said. “We need strong rules and regulations that protect our health.”


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