Why NJ needs to pave the way for cleaner trucks
In the middle of the last century, as the automobile became the dominant mode of transportation, black neighborhoods and communities of color were torn apart by the massive construction of new highways across the United States. In New Jersey, black families in Camden and Trenton were forced to leave their homes to make way for Route 676 and Route 29, generally in favor of richer, whiter suburbs.
The decades that followed not only failed to heal this wound, they exacerbated it. Today, the predominantly black and brown neighborhoods bordering major highways and maritime facilities face a public health crisis as dirty cars and diesel trucks spew pollution, damage air quality and cause health problems like asthma and cardiovascular disease.
This disturbing heritage is clearly on display in New Jersey. As a key route connecting New York City and the Northeast and Philadelphia and the Mid Atlantic, many communities in New Jersey are overwhelmed by toxic truck traffic, especially around freight hubs, terminals Maritime and Newark Airport. More than a dozen highways cross or intersect Camden and Trenton. Further north, in Newark and Elizabeth, more than 200 trucks pass through or approach residential neighborhoods every hour.
As a result, more than a third of New Jersey counties have failure ratings from the American Lung Association. Camden County is particularly polluted with dangerous particles caused by road traffic and large trucks. Meanwhile, black residents of New Jersey are more than five times more likely to go to the emergency room with an asthma attack than white residents, according to state health data. The effects of urban freeways are systemic and widespread: In the northeast and central Atlantic, people of color are exposed to 66% more air pollution than white residents, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
A question of environmental justice
This is what we mean when we talk about environmental justice and structural racism. Too often, vulnerable communities pay the burden of other people’s pollution with their health and quality of life.
Even as politicians and big business turn their attention to the climate crisis, these frontline communities are routinely overlooked.
This year, New Jersey officials have the opportunity to address those inequities by dramatically reducing pollution from trucks. The state is one of many considering the Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) rule designed to rapidly increase the number of zero-emission trucks on the roads.
Trucks have a disproportionate impact on the climate and public health. Although they represent only 10% of American traffic, they are responsible for more than a quarter of the climate pollution of our roads and for even higher rates of other harmful pollutants that threaten air quality.
The ACT rule, which could apply as early as 2025, aims to replace dirty trucks with zero-emission versions for models ranging from large pickups to 18-wheelers. By setting higher sales targets each year, the rule would boost the clean trucking industry, with these vehicles accounting for up to half of sales by 2030.
The great allies of companies
This technology would be safer and cleaner for the communities that suffer the most from pollution. And it is encouraging to note that, in this case at least, the big companies are allies.
Many companies are eager to switch to clean fleets and are asking for the ACT rule. They are guided by their own climate goals and aware of the potential for significant savings in fuel and maintenance. The problem is, the models they need don’t exist yet or are not readily available.
The ACT rule would promote the rapid development and deployment of electric trucks. By adopting this policy this year, New Jersey can ensure it is among the first to see them widely used, helping some of its most polluted and trafficked communities.
Racial, environmental and business justice groups don’t work as often as they should. But the ACT rule is a clear model for how these zones intersect, proving that a clean economy can boost both racial equity and business interests.
To be clear, this rule will not nearly solve the many consequences of environmental racism that frontline communities face. But it is an important tool in reducing some of the most visible pollution that ravages these communities every day. The Murphy administration is expected to endorse the ACT rule and put New Jersey on the path to a cleaner, fairer economy.