New MFN Report: Centering Community Voices for Zero-Emission Solutions in Freight

On August 25, 2021, the Moving Forward Network released a new report outlining how freight emissions impact the health of communities of color and low-income communities, while also significantly contributing to climate change.

Moving Forward Network Library

Titled, “Making the Case for Zero-Emission Solutions in Freight: Community Voices for Equity and Environmental Justice”, the report centers community expertise and identifies local solutions that call for community, industry, labor, government, and political action to advance equity, environmental justice, and a zero-emissions focused just transition. The report also provides community envisioned just solutions, policy tools, technological considerations, and key recommendations. Below is a brief outline and summary of their findings.

The Freight System Harms Communities and Impacts the Climate

The newly released MFN report makes the case that moving freight globally and through local neighborhoods produces high levels of diesel particulate, nitrogen oxides, and other harmful pollution, as well as climate pollutants that disproportionately harm communities of color and the broader environment. Harms to communities and impacts to the climate include the following:

  • Freight operations are often located in communities and regions that already violate federal clean air standards. About 40% of U.S. ports and many freight facilities, such as railyards, freight corridors, and logistics centers, are in areas that currently do not meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ground-level ozone (NOx) and particulate matter (PM).
  • Global freight transport accounts for about 36% of overall transportation emissions, which accounts for about 24% of direct CO2 emissions, significantly contributing to climate change. According to MFN, the trend is more worrisome than current figures indicate as global freight traffic is expanding and emissions levels are therefore continuing to increase at an alarming rate.

The Health Costs of Freight Pollution

Freight sector emissions have major public health impact, especially for communities located alongside diesel-powered freight operations. The MFN report outlines the following health costs of freight pollution:

  • Diesel is carcinogenic to humans and there is no safe level of exposure to particulate or ozone pollution produced by fossil fuel combustion. As freight operations continue to expand, this accelerates the impacts from freight pollutants including particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxide (NOx).
  • PM triggers heart attacks, strokes, asthma, exacerbates obesity and diabetes, and contributes to cognitive challenges, including Alzheimer’s, dementia, and mental health disorders.
  • Exposure to low levels of ozone can cause irreparable harm, including permanent lung damage, asthma, heart attacks, strokes, heart disease, and reproductive, and developmental harm during pregnancy.
  • Epidemiological studies have consistently demonstrated that children and adults living near sources of air pollution, such as busy roadways, have poorer health outcomes, including but not limited to: asthma, respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, lung cancer, preterm births, and low birth weight infants, premature deaths, and other negative health impacts and disparities.

Centering Environmental Justice Communities to Lead

In the report, MFN centers environmental justice communities, workers, and local voices in the broader movement for a just transition to zero emissions. The report features community perceptions from five MFN regions on the public health impacts and disparities associated with freight emissions and poor air quality:

  • Savannah, GA: “It is important that we explain, inform and make ready our communities to participate in this crucial discussion. Zero emissions will lead us to the preservation and the protection of Mother Earth...certainly, if we don’t get the masses of our people to understand, first of all, what zero emissions mean, it will be worse” Dr. Mildred McClain, Executive Director - Harambee House
  • Houston, TX: “We know that diesel exhaust is loaded with particulate matter, and it’s obviously toxic to breathe. It thus has an impact on our communities, especially in Environmental Justice communities in the Greater Houston Area. However, the City of Houston has done very little to address how communities are impacted by diesel exhaust. Studies show that communities living right next to freeways in major cities are exposed to a lot of diesel exhaust, and have a lot of health issues, asthma and respiratory illnesses.” Juan Parras, Executive Director - Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services
  • Los Angeles, CA: “If we are talking about ending diesel, then we are talking about ending the shipment of diesel, ending the production of diesel, ending the piping of diesel, and ending the extraction of diesel, right? All of that comes to an end. So, it’s not just about 1 truck, or that we want a 5% reduction of [diesel-using] trucks. We want to end the system [entirely].” mark! Lopez, Community Organizer -  East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice

Economic and Jobs Benefits of Zero-Emission Freight

MFN compiled multiple analyses that examine the economic benefits of zero-emission technologies for different aspects of the system. They also provide a snapshot of the positive growth opportunities from a nationwide commitment to zero-emission freight. The clear positive impacts identified in this brief indicate:

  • There is an immense additional economic benefit for zero emission freight that remains yet unaccounted for.
  • The U.S. is in a strong position to rebuild our economy and protect our environment by investing in local manufacturing growth and zero emissions infrastructure development, which will result in both energy and operational cost savings from zero-emission technologies.
  • The U.S. Department of Energy and the Biden administration have underscored the critical economic opportunities in developing a robust clean transportation manufacturing sector.

Labor and Worker Perspectives for a Just Transition

MFN engaged key labor and workers’ rights partners to gather their perspectives on how to advance zero-emission commercial vehicles and technologies, while equitably addressing the needs of the workforce and advancing a just transition. The brief includes some critical considerations from labor and workers in the goods movement sector, which focus on:

  • The misclassification of workers
  • Fear of automation and job loss as a result of electrification
  • The need for tax incentives and subsidies
  • The movement for a just transition to create healthy, quality jobs
  • The need for long-term relationship building across labor, workers, environmental justice and environmental groups.

Policy recommendations

Policies for Promoting Zero Emission in Freight

MFN makes the case that achieving a zero-emission future for the freight system will require efforts on various fronts. In addition to direct community action this move will require changing the laws and policies that allow polluting activities to continue. The report provides policy tools that have been pursued to drive the freight industry to transition to zero-emission operations:

  • Zero-Emission Mandates
  • Use Restrictions
  • Charging Infrastructure Mandates
  • Planning Activities
  • Project Environmental Review and Mitigation
  • Emission Financial Incentive Programs
  • Emission Standards for Freight Equipment.



To access the full report please visit the Moving Forward Network Library here.