Our Health

Diesel negatively impacts our health

Diesel exhaust includes more than 40 substances listed as hazardous air pollutants by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California Air Resources Board (CARB). This can trigger many health problems, including heart disease, lung disease, and asthma.

Asthma rates in Los Angeles have increased dramatically in the last three decades. Children, in particular, are vulnerable to the impact of diesel. In fact, children exposed to high levels of diesel exhaust are five times more likely to have underdeveloped lungs. Asthma is the most prevalent chronic disease among children, affecting 9 percent of children ages 0 to 17, and is the leading cause of children’s visits to hospital emergency rooms.

The highest level of exposure to diesel is experienced by people living near ports, rail yards, and freeways where diesel fuel is used to operate heavy duty trucks, vehicles, and machinery. It is estimated that approximately 70 percent of total known cancer risk related to air toxins in the state of California is attributable to DPM. Moreover, The International Agency for Research on Cancer found evidence that determined diesel engine exhaust is “carcinogenic to humans.”

In 2006, the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles created and approved the San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP), which is an air quality plan that aims to reduce port-related air pollution and related health risks. A critical component of the CAAP is advancing the Clean Trucks Program that strives to transition the current drayage truck fleet to near-zero technologies in the near-term and zero-emissions technologies by 2035.  A key element of the Clean Trucks Programs is the implementation of a Clean Truck Fund (CTF) Rate.  This rate, as proposed in the 2017 CAAP Update, will be charged to beneficial cargo owners (BCOs) – large companies such as Walmart and Amazon – for loaded heavy-duty container trucks to enter or exit the Ports’ terminals.  The goal of the CTF Rate is to help truckers subsidize the cost of a clean truck. 

In 2019 and 2020, when the Ports were considering the adoption of a CTF Rate, we joined several organizations in urging the Ports to adopt a CTF Rate that would significantly increase the transition of dirty trucks to clean trucks.  Unfortunately, the CTF Rate adopted by the Ports on March 9, 2020 was just $10 per twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU). 

According to an economic study commissioned by the Ports, the $10/TEU approved by the Ports will only raise $90 million, which is an insufficient amount of money necessary to turn over the fleet of diesel trucks to near-zero and zero-emission technologies.  Currently, there are roughly 18,000 trucks that are registered at the Port. Of that 18,000, approximately 8,000 are pre-2010 diesel trucks that will be banned by state law on January 1, 2023.  The Port has a chance to convert 45 percent of the drayage fleet to near-zero and zero-emission technologies ahead of the 2023 deadline, but by instituting a CTF Rate of $10/TEU, the Port is not serious about achieving their CAAP goals.  

Moreover, while the Ports have decided to adopt a CTF Rate of $10/TEU, they have yet to begin collecting it.  For what exactly are they waiting?  Business is booming.  The Port of Long Beach in 2020 posted a record-setting year moving over 8.1 million TEUs, representing a 6.3 percent increase from 2019.  The Port of Los Angeles meanwhile handled approximately 9.2 million TEUs in 2020, which was their fourth-best year ever.  The Ports cannot point to uncertainty while simultaneously producing record-breaking figures.  Every day that we delay the $10/TEU CTF Rate implementation is another opportunity missed. 

View the Air Pollution Maps

Beyond the implementation of a CTF Rate, there is another, simpler action the Ports can take to expedite the transition.  The Ports Drayage Truck Registry, the approved list of drayage trucks that can enter the ports to drop off or pick up cargo containers, can play a significant role in phasing-out diesel trucks and replacing them with clean trucks. 

As of October 1, 2018, only model year (MY) 2014 trucks and newer could be newly registered in the Ports Registry. But older trucks already registered could remain on the Registry. After December 31, 2022, though, a key state regulation will no longer allow the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to register trucks with engines that are MY 2009 or older.  So owners of trucks with pre-2010 engines must retrofit their trucks with MY 2014 engines or later or replace their trucks with new near-zero or zero emission trucks.  One day later, on January 1, 2023, the Ports’ Registry will only allow trucks with near-zero and zero-emissions engines to be added. 

It is this January 1, 2023 date that needs to be re-evaluated.  By being one day after the DMV deadline, it promotes owners of pre-MY2010 diesel trucks to purchase a used MY2014 or later diesel truck at a much lower cost than trucks with cleaner engines.  Moving the deadline to an earlier date will prevent more dirty trucks from being registered and therefore would prevent more pollution in our neighborhoods. 

As the deadlines currently stand, the Ports Registry is susceptible to a flood of diesel trucks being registered at the very last minute, which would allow dirty trucks to operate at the ports well beyond their stated goal, as well as the state’s, of a transition to near-zero technologies.  Currently, the ports’ CAAP Update wants a transition to near-zero technologies in the short-term with a long-term transition to zero-emission technologies.  On paper, this sounds good.  But in reality, the ports have not clarified the steps they will take to actually realize these goals. 

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