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The warehouse industry in SoCal is reportedly pushing back against a proposed emissions rule that would make operators of distribution centers responsible for pollutants generated by trucks going into and out of their facilities.
Drafted by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), the Warehouse Indirect Source Rule is one of the first emissions regulations in the U.S. to take aim at the massive growth in warehouse development tied to e-commerce. Per the draft, its purpose is “to reduce local and regional emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, and to facilitate local and regional emission reductions associated with warehouses and the mobile sources attracted to warehouses in order to assist in meeting state and federal air quality standards for ozone and fine particulate matter.”
Being an agency charged with reducing air pollution in Southern California, the AQMD’s board is slated to vote on the proposal this spring, and if approved, the rule would require warehouse operators to either take steps to reduce emissions. These could include such as transition to electric trucks, or pay a fee to the air quality agency.
As told to FreightWaves, South Coast District assistant deputy executive officer Sarah Rees said the agency is charged with reducing air pollution in Southern California, typically regulating “stationary” sources of pollutants such as factories and refineries. This is the first time the agency has targeted a “mobile” source — trucks. “With the growth in goods movement as a contributor to smog-forming emissions, it’s a good time to get at the source of the emissions contributing to the problem,” she explained.
However, the CEO of the SoCal chapter of NAIOP, a commercial real estate association, Timothy Jemal countered that the premise of the draft rule was fundamentally flawed. He explained that the vast majority of warehouses have no control over what type of trucks are brought in, meaning they have no authority to take any actions to decrease truck emissions.
Despite regulatory efforts over the past decade to improve air quality in California and Los Angeles especifically, SoCal still has the worst smog in the country and consistently violates federal Clean Air Act standards. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic and the stay-at-home order, Los Angeles saw a drastic drop in traffic that even the smog has cleared out, making it the city with the cleanest air of any other major city in the world. But that didn’t last long.
And in fact, much of that pollution comes from diesel trucks heading to and from warehouses. The South Coast District includes the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, where every year hundreds of millions of tons of freight moves from the megaports through around 1 billion square feet of warehouse space.
Ian MacMillan, the AQMD’s planning and rules manager, explained that the facilities themselves don’t generate much pollution, “When you look at the emissions profile related to a warehouse, typically 90% plus comes from trucks.”
As drafted, the indirect source rule would apply to owners and operators of distribution warehouses that are 100,000 or more square feet. The AQMD estimates that around 3,000 warehouses in the South Coast would be impacted.
Moreover, environmental and community groups have said the regulation would hold the lucrative warehouse sector accountable for its role in the air pollution blanketing low-income and minority neighborhoods, which tend to suffer from disproportionate rates of asthma and other pollution-related health problems. Not to mention the pandemic-fueled surge in online shopping worsened the problem that communities have been battling for more than a decade, Faraz Rizvi, special projects coordinator for the Center for Community Action, Environmental Justice (CCAEJ), a Southern California nonprofit that has been working to mitigate the impacts of regional warehouse development, pointed out. “Regulating warehouses will encourage use of green technology and hopefully reduce pollution,” Rizvi said. A new study actually showed that almost all of the climate and traffic congestion benefits of online shopping are being wiped out by same-day deliveries.
But this new rule isn’t the only aggressive trucking emissions regulation the state of California has taken on in the past year. In 2020, the state’s lead air quality regulator, CARB, approved the Advanced Clean Truck (ACT) rule requiring manufacturers of medium- and heavy-duty trucks to sell an increasing number of electric vehicles, with a goal of phasing out fossil fuel commercial vehicles altogether by mid-century.