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Activists Demand More Environmental Justice Focus as States Electrify Fleets
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Activists Demand More Environmental Justice Focus as States Electrify Fleets

New Yorks Right to a Healthful Environment Could Be Bad News for Fossil Fuel Interests

Melissa Miles believes that the dense traffic and high industry in her neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey is to blame for her sons’ asthma diagnosis. Despite not having any family history of the condition, she still believes it was due to the heavy traffic.

Ironbound is bordered by three major interstate highways. Miles raised her boys there for almost a decade. The plastic factory was located about a mile from her house. There was also the metal crushing facility down the street. There was also the interstate bus hub and massive trash incinerator. There were also two fossil fuel power plants, an international airport, and a regional shipping port, which New Jersey shares with New York. All of these were within yards or miles of her block.

Miles moved to Summit, a more residential area, in 2020 partly to escape all the pollution. Her time in Ironbound inspired her to get involved in community organizing and fight environmental injustices in cities like Newark.

Ironbound and the rest of Newark have an asthma rate three times higher that the national average. Many residents blame these sources of pollution. According to the Environmental Protection Agency one in four Newark children suffer from the condition. The city has more than 70% people of color and more than 25% of its residents living below the federal poverty threshold.

Miles stated that Ironbound contains about 40 percent of the state’s major air facilities within five square miles. Miles was referring to facilities that are major sources of pollution under Clean Air Act. My sons will never forget the effects of growing up in a neighborhood ravaged by pollution.

Many environmentalists rejoiced the adoption of California’s Advanced Clean Truck Rule (or ACT) by New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts in December. Starting in 2025, the rule requires automakers to begin selling more electric freight trucks, buses, and tractor trailers in these states. Lawmakers believe that making more electric medium and heavy-duty vehicles will help phase out diesel-powered vehicles. The automakers must increase zero-emission truck sales to these states by between 30-50 percent and 40-75 percent by 2030, respectively, and by 2035.

Although diesel vehicles only make up a fraction of all the nation’s fleet, they contribute more than 60 percent to harmful tailpipe pollution such as particulate and nitrogen dioxide.According to a recent report. There is increasing evidence that diesel pollution has a devastating impact on communities of colour and low-income neighborhoods. These neighborhoods often live side-by-side alongside industry and heavily trafficked highways. These findings suggest that lawmakers can target diesel emission to reduce the nation’s persistent environmental disparities.

Six states have already adopted the ACT rule. Oregon and Washington also approved it earlier in the year. The six states that have adopted the ACT rule will affect 20 percent of the nation’s trucks, according to PatricioPortillo, a transportation analyst from the Natural Resources Defense Council. This advocacy group promotes clean energy. Other states could soon follow suit, with Colorado, Maine and Connecticut all signaling they are exploring the possibility.

Portillo said that this is a significant deal. It has the potential of moving a global sector in the direction we want it to.

Miles is one of many environmental justice activists who believe that adopting the California clean trucks rule is a good first step, but it doesn’t go far enough in helping communities like Ironbound which have suffered the brunt from the state’s industrial pollution for a long time.

The ACT rule states that by a certain date, there should be more electric trucks in the market. They should also be encouraged to be sold. Amy Goldsmith, New Jersey state director for Clean Water Action, another environmental advocacy organization, stated that the rule is about encouraging the sale of electric trucks. However, it doesn’t require that anyone buy them and doesn’t take diesel trucks out of service.

ACT will assist in the phase-in of electric trucks over a greater time period, but many environmental justice communities located near major truck routes are likely to continue to suffer from the nation’s toxic diesel emissions in the short term, Goldsmith said. 

Newark is a prime example. Goldsmith said that Newark shares a major shipping terminal with New York and that more than 22,000 trucks drive through it every single day.

According to the State of New Jersey, the three Jersey counties containing the ports facilities (Essex, Hudson and Union) are also the most polluted in diesel emissions. Clean Air Task Force compiled EPA dataThe, an organization that has been fighting for decades to reduce air pollution in the country. The data shows that this pollution leads to nearly $1 billion in additional health care costs each year across these countries.

The data also shows that diesel pollution causes more than 8,800 deaths and 3,700 heart attacks per year. There are hundreds of thousands of respiratory diseases and almost $1 trillion in additional healthcare costs each year.

Advocates like Miles and Goldsmith are pushing their state officials for stricter regulations to reduce diesel pollution sooner. One rule that could be adopted would be California’s Heavy-Duty Omnibus rule. This rule sets tougher emission standards for new trucks still running on diesel and is expected to make California trucks 90 percent cleaner once it is fully implemented in 2027.

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Only Oregon and Massachusetts have so far adopted the rule, outside of California. It is not clear how popular the measure will gain in other states. However, some state officials, including those in Washington, have indicated that they are exploring the possibility.

Miles, who was named the executive director of New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance in 2020 said that she would also like for state lawmakers to adopt new policies that target specific environmental justice neighborhoods such as Ironbound. It is not clear if such measures have been adopted in New Jersey or elsewhere.

The Port Authority of New York, New Jersey, an agency that manages Newark airport and the shipping ports along both sides of the bay could also adopt its own rules to require drivers who enter the port to use newer engines that pollute less. The agency had promised to adopt such measures in 2016 but has since reneged.

Industry groups such as the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association have voiced their opposition to the ACT and Omnibus rules. They claim that the regulations will cause unnecessary costs on truck drivers and truck makers, and will encourage them to look for business elsewhere.

Jed Mandel, president and CEO of the associations, stated that truckers buying vehicles out of state, dealers losing sales and the state losing jobs and tax revenue will put jobs, the economy, as well as the environment, at risk. Press releaseSoon after California passed the 2020 rules, they were implemented in California.

Portillo still sees the momentum behind ACT as a positive development for things to come, especially since the federal government is considering updating its medium- and heavy duty emissions standards. Advocates expect a ruling by the EPA on those standards this year.

Portillo stated that timing is critical because we have a federal rulingmaking that will get started in the next month. California’s ambitious strategy is being followed by more states, which increases the chances of a national standard very similar to the one these states have.

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