Amid E-Commerce Surge, California Cities Want Relief from Truck Pollution

Energy News Network
By Kevin Stark

Community and clean air advocates are fighting to curb pollution and electrify trucks in a distribution center hub.

The new expectation of next-day delivery is contributing to an old problem for California’s valley communities: smog.

Online and big-box retailers in recent years have erected giant distribution centers in Southern California’s Inland Empire, an area east of Los Angeles that includes Riverside, San Bernardino, Fontana and Moreno Valley. The area is sought after in part because of its proximity to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which service about 40 percent of all trade in the United States.

Amazon reportedly invested $4.7 billion in the Inland Empire between 2012 and 2016, and it’s not alone. Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Ikea and Nike all have distribution centers in the region. Many are larger than 500,000 square feet, with soaring ceilings and numerous loading bays, all designed to gain economy of scale and improve operational efficiency. A surge in truck traffic and air pollution has accompanied the buildup.

“One of the issues we’re dealing with in our region is the immense air pollution from the thousands and thousands of diesel trucks” that are coming to the area, said Allen Hernandez, executive director of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, one of the groups helping to push back against the logistics industry with lawsuits and demands for better pollution controls and cleaner vehicles.

More than a third — 37 percent — of California’s emissions stem from the transportation sector, according to the state’s air resources board. Cars and trucks are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions California, and — despite the state’s reputation among conservative critics as being run by radical environmentalists — many cities here are plagued by terrible air pollution, some of the worst in the U.S.

Lawsuits to press policy

Clean air advocates have used environmental lawsuits to press developers for project-level air quality mitigations such as bans on older diesel trucks and the building of electric vehicle infrastructure.

Moreno Valley residents are locked in a prolonged legal dispute with the World Logistics Center, a proposed massive new development totaling 40 million square feet of warehouses that the developer says will create 20,000 new jobs. The Moreno Valley City Council approved the project in 2015.

Community groups and environmental advocates, including the local Sierra Club chapter, filed environmental challenges claiming that, among other issues, the development will exceed daily air pollution standards set by the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Environmental documents estimate that the center will generate more than 68,000 daily vehicle trips, one-fifth of which would be by heavy trucks.

In response, the developer said that it would mandate only new diesel trucks on site and not use diesel equipment in the warehouses. Additionally, each building will have a minimum of two electric vehicle charging stations, but the environmental groups argued the mitigations were not enough and won a recent legal victory. Settlement discussions are ongoing.

Elsewhere, Hernandez’s group and Earthjustice, an environmental law group based in San Francisco, sued San Bernardino County supervisors and the developer of the Slover Distribution Center, a 334,000-square-foot warehouse located in the rural town of Bloomington.

They argued that the warehouse, which abuts a residential area and is next to a high school, didn’t adequately mitigate for air pollution. Among other measures, the developer agreed to install four electric vehicle charging stations, but Hernandez contends it is not enough and litigation continues.

The pollution is getting so bad in the Inland Empire that officials with the South Coast Air Quality Management District in Southern California voted last May to create new emissions rules for warehouses and distribution centers that could limit pollution from the trucks and trains servicing distribution centers — a so-called indirect source of pollution.

The goal is to tackle the issue of pollution in the air by how much it accumulates in an area, rather than on a pollutant-by-pollutant basis. The rulemaking process is controversial. Business leaders are resisting and worry that regulations will hurt the growing market for shipping goods and services.

Hernandez’s group is pressing leaders with the air quality agency to adopt a rule that will enforce new regulations either on the amount of pollution, the facility size, or a requirement on the number of trucks that come in and out. The details are under negotiation.

The community group’s argument is that the only sustainable solution is the electrification of trucks. Andrea Vidaurre, a policy analyst for the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, said: “We need an indirect source rule, and we also need caps, a facility-based measure that tells the warehouses this is as much as your facility is allowed to pollute and every year that will get smaller and smaller to incentivize electrification and the infrastructure to support electric vehicles.”

State budget concerns

In 2014, California passed SB 1275, a bill that mandated the state put a million electric vehicles on the road in the span of a decade. The so-called “Charge Ahead” legislation was endorsed by a coalition of environmental groups. State investment in electric semitrucks was a key component of the bill.

The bill’s language outlined the goal of increasing access to “disadvantaged, low-income, and moderate-income communities” to electric vehicles and to “increase the placement of those vehicles in those communities with those consumers in order to enhance the air quality.”

Environmental groups have applauded the state’s effort generally, but they have raised concerns about Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal, which slashes funding to these programs by millions of dollars.

The latest budget proposal would infuse the California Air Resources Board with $132 million for low-carbon trucks, buses, and off-road freight equipment, a reduction of $48 million. Money for transportation equity projects and fleet modernization programs is set to be $50 million, half of what it was in the last budget.

“We’ve done a lot in terms of generating investments around this topic,” said Joel Espino, environmental equity legal counsel for the Greenlining Institute. “But we can’t take our foot off the electric pedal, especially in the poorest and most polluted parts of our state. And unfortunately, the governor’s budget does just that. It cuts millions in funding to programs that will create the most benefit and in vulnerable communities.”

The institute is an Oakland-based racial and economic justice nonprofit and research organization that works across the state of California to push electric vehicle policy as an investment tool for social justice.

“When you look at smog … particularly from the heavy-duty sector, we know that it discriminates,” Espino said. “We know that low-income communities of color are hit hardest by toxic emissions because of a long history of discriminatory land use and transportation policies that really saddle those communities with clogged highways and dirty ports and warehouses.”

Leaders with California’s finance department said that the reduction in funds was not a policy decision but is due to fluctuations in money from California’s cap-and-trade auctions. They are reviewing the budget and it could be amended in the next draft, which is expected in May.

Low-emission zones

California leaders are also exploring the development of bans on old diesel trucks in certain areas hardest hit by pollution.

Nancy Skinner, a Democratic state senator from the Bay Area, proposed a law last week intended to phase out the use of diesel trucks in California. It directs the California Air Resources Board to come up with a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from trucks 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. Skinner tweeted:

“Proud today to announce SB 44, also known as ‘Ditching Dirty Diesel.’ It’s designed to phase out the use of polluting, diesel-fueled medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses in California and to speed up the transition to cleaner technologies.”

Older diesel vehicles are banned in some German cities, including Leipzig, where one study found widespread benefits. Soot particles, with cancer-causing hydrocarbons, decreased by 60 percent, and ultrafine particles, which can penetrate deep into the lungs, decreased by around 70 percent, according to researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research.

In 2017, the Air Resources Board outlined a set of policy recommendations designed to help the state reach its emissions reduction targets. At the time, the state’s goal was a 40 percent emissions reduction across the board by 2030. Last year, California leaders mandated that 100 percent of its energy be derived from clean sources by 2045.

One of its recommendations: the creation of pricing policies to support the robust development of low-emission heavy-duty trucks. The state could ban trucks that spew large amounts of diesel exhaust in some areas, or at least require that heavy polluters pay significant tolls. Analysts with the Air Resources Board are expected to release policy proposals for what are sometimes called low-emission or no-emission vehicle zones sometime in 2019.

In Oakland and Elsewhere, Health Care Is Investing in Affordable Housing


When an apartment building sells in gentrifying parts of Oakland, California, tenants often brace themselves for the worst. Rent hikes, disruptive renovations and evictions can follow. But when one building recently changed hands, city officials and housing activists celebrated.

Kensington Gardens, a 41-unit building in the working-class, immigrant neighborhood of San Antonio, was sold last November. “I was feeling somebody was going to get it and they were going to raise the rent,” said Ameria Lipscomb, who lives in a first-floor studio in Kensington. Tenants there generally pay below-market rents.

When the building changed hands, Lipscomb expected a rent hike and for many of her neighbors — retirees on fixed incomes, janitors, childcare workers, a couple of families with children— to be pushed out. But neither outcome came to pass. Why? The new owner is the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation, a nonprofit affordable housing developer.

“I am so happy that they bought this building. I don’t know what I would have done if the rent went up,” Lipscomb said. Facing sky-high real estate prices, EBALDC’s current strategy is, rather than building affordable units, to buy them and hold rents steady. The idea is to keep people from getting displaced.

“You just cannot build your way out of this crisis,” said Charise Fong, the nonprofit’s chief operating officer. The challenge, however, is finding enough capital to buy in Oakland’s overheated housing market. “You’re running against private investors with all-cash and they often will beat you out,” Fong said.

EBALDC got a low-interest loan of $5.2 million from Kaiser Permanente, the health care company with headquarters in downtown Oakland, to acquire Lipscomb’s building. Kaiser’s chief executive, Bernard Tyson, announced the loan at a city hall press conference in January. It was about half the money needed to buy Ameria Lipscomb’s building.

Kaiser also promised to partner with local social service agencies to provide health care and housing for 500 homeless people in Oakland, though it didn’t give details on exactly how it plans to provide that care. Yesterday, Kaiser announced plans to spend $3 million in 15 communities nationwide to combat chronic homelessness.

What’s in this for Kaiser? Sure, it’s good public relations. But according to Robert Friant of the Corporation for Supportive Housing, health care companies are recognizing that for people to be healthy, they need homes. “Not only does the health of the patient improve, the outcomes are better, but we all benefit because the cost of health care goes down,” Friant said.

Kaiser is investing $200 million in low-interest loans for affordable housing nationwide. This may be part of a growing national trend of health maintenance organizations investing in housing to improve community health. In Phoenix, United Healthcare lent money to a community development corporation, Chicanos Por La Causa, to purchase apartment complexes for Medicaid recipients. In Chicago, the University of Illinois Hospital helps to find permanent housing for homeless people who regularly present at its emergency department.

In order to maintain their tax status with the IRS, non-profit hospitals are required by law to give back to the communities they serve. Traditionally, this takes the form of charity care, according to Anthony Galace of the Greenlining Institute, a policy group that promotes economic justice.

But with more people covered by the Affordable Care Act, nonprofit hospitals are fulfilling their community benefit requirements by getting into housing development, clinic-building and workforce training. Housing individual homeless people and supporting social services can count toward IRS requirements, but loans do not, Galace said.

Oakland estimates that by between 2020 and 2024, to meet the growing demand for housing, the city will need to build 17,000 additional housing units, and protect 17,000 existing units from rent hikes and evictions.

For Ameria Lipscomb, there’s a clear connection between health and home. She’s a cancer survivor. And when she got sick, she lost her job as a cook and found herself on the street. She’s still not working, and her rent is subsidized.

“I love my honeycomb hideout,” she said, as she proudly gave a tour of her studio. “I come into my apartment and I breathe a sigh of relief because I lived one more day, and I have a roof over my head one more day.”

Grist 50: Alvaro Sanchez

No smartphone? No problem. He has a better idea for transit.


From autonomous vehicles to electric bikeshares: The future of transport is coming at us fast.

Urban planner Alvaro Sanchez is ensuring that this future doesn’t leave low-income people behind.

New scooter-rental and ride-hailing services require a credit card and a smartphone, putting them out of reach for some. So Sanchez and his team created a “mobility-equity framework” for cities developing new transport plans that takes into account local needs and priorities. In San Francisco, for example, they encouraged bikeshare and scooter companies to invest in mass-transit infrastructure and to accept payment methods like smart cards that can be purchased at a drugstore.

In part because of his experience as a first-generation immigrant, Sanchez believes that economic and environmental justice go hand in hand: “We’re addressing poverty and pollution at the same time.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, Boots Riley Headline Greenlining Economic Summit Apr. 26

26th Annual Event Marks Official Farewell for Longtime Greenlining Institute President Orson Aguilar  

Contact: Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Media Relations Director, 510-926-4022; 415-846-7758 (cell)

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – The Greenlining Institute’s 26th annual Economic Summit, “Reclaiming Our Time,” will feature a stellar lineup, including U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, acclaimed rapper, activist, producer, screenwriter and film director Boots Riley, She the People founder Aimee Alison, and many others exploring how to move America toward true justice and equity.

Each year Greenlining brings together powerful voices for change—grassroots community leaders, nationally known advocates, artists, elected officials and more—for a unique event that focuses like a laser on how to build a more equitable, just society. More than a conference, it’s a one-of-a-kind event where innovation, art and activism align. With a theme inspired by Rep. Maxine Waters’ iconic 2017 “reclaiming my time” moment, this year’s Economic Summit will highlight the leaders — especially here in California — who refuse to stay silent in the face of injustice.

Founded in 1993, The Greenlining Institute envisions a nation where communities of color thrive and race is never a barrier to economic opportunity. See Greenlining’s Economic Summit web page for detailed information on the day’s program.

Last year’s Summit sold out, and this year’s is expected to as well. Journalists wishing to attend are asked to RSVP to Bruce Mirken at

WHAT: The Greenlining Institute’s 26th annual Economic Summit

WHO: Speakers and awardees include rapper/filmmaker Boots Riley, Rep. Barbara Lee, Dream Corps President Vien Truong, She the People founder Aimee Alison and more.

WHEN: Friday, April 26, 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. (registration opens at 8)

WHERE: Oakland Marriott, Oakland City Center, 1001 Broadway, Oakland, California, 94607


A Multi-Ethnic Public Policy, Research and Advocacy Institute


How Self-Driving Cars Could Harm Marginalized Communities

By Hana Creger

Everyone’s talking about self-driving, autonomous vehicles these days. Late last year General Motors announced that it will shut down production of several conventional car lines, partly to pour resources into its self-driving car unit, and GM is just one of many companies ramping up such efforts, alongside Google, Tesla, Uber and a slew of others. But what kind of transportation future will this autonomous vehicle revolution bring? And who will it benefit? In a country with an increasing divide between rich and poor, what will this whiz-bang technology mean for marginalized groups such as the poor, people of color, the elderly and those with disabilities?

Some observers have imagined a sort of transportation heaven—no more space wasted on parking, less smog, easier commutes and cleaner air as the autonomous fleet electrifies. More realistically, other writers have argued we face a heaven or hell choice, with many possible downsides. While the spotlight has been fixated on the shiny new technology itself, what has been largely hidden in the shadows is how self-driving vehicles will impact our most marginalized people. Depending on how self-driving cars are deployed, we could see a growing mobility divide between haves and have-nots—an alarming prospect in places where soaring housing prices are already pushing low- and moderate-income residents farther away from their jobs and into long, punishing commutes. But this mobility divide has enormous implications beyond just commute times.

Access to mobility is the key that unlocks economic opportunity, education, health care and a better quality of life for Americans, so we should all be concerned. A Harvard study found that a person’s commute time is the single greatest factor in their ability to pull themselves out of poverty and up the economic ladder. And for low-income households, a chronic lack of affordable and reliable transportation options remains an insurmountable barrier to improving their lives.

Our car-centric culture and infrastructure contribute to economic inequality. While survey data have varied over the years, available figures consistently show that lower-income Americans spend a higher percentage of their income on transportation than the wealthy do. Those who can’t afford their own vehicles struggle to get around on underfunded public transit or unsafe sidewalks and bike lanes. It’s a strong possibility that the rise of driverless vehicles will only widen these disparities: Those with lots of money will lounge in the comfort of their personal self-driving cars while everyone else is stuck in increasing gridlock or on deteriorating public transit. If we make it too easy for people to own self-driving cars, this will only further entrench everyone in a transportation hell of bumper-to-bumper traffic. And while congestion is an irritating inconvenience to all of us, marginalized people will be hurt the most by deteriorating public transit, a loss of driving jobs and a transportation system that prioritizes cars over people. We need to get this right.

At The Greenlining Institute, we’ve just done the first analysis to look in detail at the social equity implications of the coming transportation revolution, especially for those who are too often ignored in transportation planning, like people of color, low-income folks and residents of rural communities. The best answer, we found, lies in what are sometimes called FAVES: fleets of autonomous vehicles that are electric and shared. FAVES lets us connect self-driving technology to the two other big changes now revolutionizing transportation: electrification and the proliferation of shared-mobility services, including Uber and Lyft, as well as many alternatives.

FAVES, deployed correctly and in tandem with increased walking, biking and public transit, can be the “magic bullet” that improves mobility for people at all income levels, cuts pollution and greenhouse gases, and helps make cities more livable. This isn’t some futuristic fantasy; FAVES are already here. A multitude of companies are operational, such as Transdev, which has transported 3.5 million people in their electric self-driving shuttles.

But even FAVES won’t have these positive social equity and environmental effects if we leave essential decisions to the marketplace. Left alone, companies will do just what you’d expect: cater to customers with disposable income and ignore the broader implications for communities and for marginalized folks. We’ve already seen glimpses of what a “hell” future might entail, with evidence suggesting that ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft have cut into transit ridership and increased traffic congestion in some urban areas. Without oversight, what would prevent transportation companies from ditching their drivers for robots to double their profits? We can’t allow the private sector to dictate the terms of this transportation revolution. We have to demand that self-driving vehicle technology fits into a vision of a fair transportation system that reduces pollution and contributions to climate change, and doesn’t just leave those with driving jobs in the dust.

For the coming transportation revolution to truly benefit all, we’ll need strong regulations to, among other things:

  • Discourage personally owned autonomous vehicles and encourage FAVES fleets. We can do this with equitable “road pricing” that waives fees for low-income people. The “heaven” scenario of cleaner air, less space wasted on parking, and reduced traffic simply can’t happen without FAVES.
  • Ensure affordability for people at all income levels, and guarantee availability of autonomous ridesharing services in low-income communities and other places the market might neglect, like rural areas—with fleets that are right-sized to meet local needs.
  • Guarantee equitable access to FAVES for those with disabilities, people who lack a smartphone or high-speed internet access, or who do not speak English.
  • Ensure a just transition and retraining programs for the millions whose jobs will eventually be eliminated by automation, such as bus and truck drivers, and guarantee fair labor standards for the new jobs created in this emerging industry.
  • Protect, enhance and prioritize the healthiest and most environmentally friendly transportation options, such as biking and walking.

We must demand that government at all levels increase investments in walking, biking and public transit infrastructure. Building more car-oriented infrastructure has never been the solution to our congested, polluted and unjust transportation system. Self-driving cars are only the latest distraction from what real innovation would look like in American transportation. A real transportation revolution would transform our cities into clean, vibrant places that are designed for people to live, work, and thrive—not de facto parking lots for their cars.

We have a unique opportunity to create a transportation system that prioritizes moving people over cars. If we get it right, the coming transportation revolution can be a vehicle to help fix transportation injustices while contributing to better mobility, more livable communities and greater economic prosperity for all.

Hana Creger is Environmental Equity Program Manager at The Greenlining Institute. She is lead author of the 2019 report “Autonomous Vehicle Heaven or Hell? Creating a Transportation Revolution that Benefits All.”

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Electric Car Programs Need to Remember the Needy

By Skip Descant

Electric vehicle car-shares, charging ports and other pieces of the green mobility future may go unused in many communities if the projects fail to understand local needs or the communities the projects hope to serve.

“I think it’s important that this is just not about, ‘Let’s put some electric vehicles where they’re going to improve the air quality for folks who have been most impacted by bad air,’” said Jeff Allen, executive director of Forth, a nonprofit trade association and advocate for electric mobility based in Portland, Ore.

“That’s part of the equation,” said Allen, speaking during a Feb. 12 webinar hosted by Forth. “But it’s also about, ‘How are we going to use these technologies to actually improve mobility options for people, and how are we actually going to use this growing industry to create job opportunities and economic opportunities for folks?’”

“Equity” is a frequent rallying cry by advocates of transit, micro-mobility programs like bike or scooter shares, as well as promoters of smart city projects. The point, said Joel Espino, environmental equity legal counsel for The Greenlining Institute in Oakland, is to devise programs that “grow justice and fairness” in cities.

“So sometimes that means making sure that the neediest and most vulnerable people in society who are facing systemic disadvantages … have the resources to catch up,” said Espino, speaking during the webinar. “So that’s really what we’re trying to do with these programs.”

A number of smart mobility programs in cities across the country have taken on equity in various forms. When San Francisco granted operation permits to Scoot and Skip to introduce electric scooters, the city’s transit officials made that decision, in part, based on the companies’ commitment to serving low-income residents.

The Charge Ahead California Initiative — passed by the California Legislature in 2014 — helped to kickstart the EV equity ecosystem in California, said Espino.

Those efforts have spurred more than 17 projects at various stages of development, attracting some $280 million of investment allocated from the state’s cap-and-trade program. Since 2015 the state has secured $540 million, in part from the Electrify America program, which has been invested in the charging infrastructure in disadvantaged and low-income communities.

“A lot has been happening since 2014,” said Espino.

An electric car-sharing program in affordable housing areas in the Bay Area received $2.25 million in funding and is set to launch later this year. Part of the project is a more thorough needs assessment to see what else is needed to improve the community’s mobility. These could include bike-share memberships, transit passes and more.

And then there’s the so-called “scrap and replace” program in Los Angeles and California’s Central Valley, which provides a voucher of up to $9,500 to help low-income drivers purchase a new or used EV. The program has received $112 million from the cap-and-trade program, with $85 million awarded.

“That’s been a really successful program. And the hope is that we’re expanding that program to the Bay Area region later this spring and also to the Sacramento region later this year,” said Espino.

In the Bay Area, participants will be able to scrap their car in exchange for vouchers valued at up to $7,500 which can be used toward transit passes or other mobility options. Other projects like a $10-a-day car-share program in Portland, Ore., which used donated electric-powered Honda Fits, taught organizers that it was a good idea to put child car seats in the vehicles.

A Look at the Green New Deal’s Clean Transportation Goals and How to Achieve Them

Greentech Media
By Emma Foerhinger Merchant

Though scant on details of what a transportation overhaul might look like, the Green New Deal — really a framework designed to generate more specific policy proposals — has already caused a partisan stir around what a remade and more just transit system might look like.

The resolution released last week from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey is, at its core, an outline to transition toward an environmentally friendly and equitable economy. Transportation makes up just one part. Politics are stacked against the deal, and it’s unlikely to pass the Republican-led Senate. But experts in the clean transportation space say it could serve as a roadmap to spur conversation and help crystallize ideas for the future transportation system.

The resolution doesn’t explicitly include transportation goals in its call for a “10-year mobilization,” but it does call for an overhaul of the transportation system and the elimination of all its pollution and greenhouse gas emissions “as much as is technologically feasible.” According to the resolution, that should happen in part through investments in zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing, public transportation and high-speed rail.

Like the other sectors the resolution addresses, transportation policies must also work to right systemic injustices. A FAQ distributed at the same time as the resolution — which is not a part of the official document — also named a goal to replace every internal combustion vehicle, put charging infrastructure “everywhere,” and create alternatives to air travel (a point that’s caused alarm among the GOP and shrugs from others).

The document, while broad, is also very ambitious. Deployment of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, plus the decarbonization of transportation sectors like aviation and shipping, are far from reaching the levels set forth in the Green New Deal’s goals.

But experts say there are policies that can get us closer to the goals through a combination of community input, technological innovation, aggressive targets, and transparency. How quickly that can happen, however, remains unclear.

“We’re in a space right now where we’re seeing political headwinds from many different directions. But one thing that will be necessary and critical throughout is to make sure we have the foundation that can allow us to achieve these goals,” said Natasha Vidangos, vice president of research and analysis at the Alliance to Save Energy. “There are many, many ways that we could get to the level of ambition articulated in the Green New Deal document.”

A policy wish list

As Vidangos noted, there is a vast array of available options. But Hana Creger, environmental equity program manager at the Greenlining Institute, says the broad scope of the resolution is a boon rather than a burden.

“While to some folks the Green New Deal’s transportation vision seems too vague, I believe that’s really the intent,” said Creger. “There’s never going to be a one-size-fits-all solution across the board. […] The ultimate decision on how to get there should be informed by the needs of individual communities.”

In outlining the priorities that would help the country achieve the Green New Deal’s goals, experts did note a number of common policies and regulations. The top-level goals: reducing emissions, opening more transit options and electrifying as many vehicles as possible as quickly as possible, in ways that benefit all, rather than prioritizing a few.

The electrification goal applies to passenger vehicles but also heavy-duty freight, buses and off-road vehicles. Getting there requires massive rollout of charging infrastructure that can support more EVs, part of what Vidangos calls a “clean chicken-and-egg arrangement,” because it’s difficult to encourage consumers to buy more EVs if they don’t have a way to charge them.

Creger highlights the need to divert significant funds to communities that lack transportation access. Even if mandates come from the federal level, Creger said laws should prioritize local involvement to choose between clean transportation options such as biking, efficient transit, walking and electric vehicles that are most suited to the community.

Experts also say that rather than rolling back corporate average fuel economy standards, which the Trump administration moved to do last year, federal policymakers should strengthen them. The same goes for federal tax credits for electric vehicles, which now sit at $7,500 for the first 200,000 cars a manufacturer sells. Tesla and General Motors have already hit that 200,000 cap, triggering a stepdown in the incentives attached to a purchase of their vehicles.

“We’re not at a point where, from a public policy perspective, we can move away from consumer incentives to support the purchase of electric vehicles,” said Drew Kodjak, executive director at the International Council on Clean Transportation.

Kodjak said the situation also requires mass education of consumers.

Right now, electric vehicles represent between 1 and 2 percent of U.S. auto sales. And even as their market share has taken off, consumers have evinced an appetite to drive more miles and purchase less-efficient SUVs. Shifting that behavior will require not only more efficient single-passenger vehicles, but also a wider array of options.

“The iron law of transportation infrastructure is: If you build it, they will come,” said Hal Harvey, CEO at Energy Innovation. “So, if you build more freeway miles, you get more cars. If you build more bike paths, you get more bikes.”

Prioritizing transportation equity

Prioritizing equitable mobility options, Greenlining’s Creger explains, is essential for any Green New Deal transportation policy. Historically, road construction and pollution have impacted marginalized communities more than wealthier and whiter ones, cutting them off from economic opportunities while harming health.

A 2006 report from the Brookings Institution showed that metropolitan planning organizations, the decision-making bodies for large sums of transportation funds, have also had a disproportionate number of white members compared to the metropolitan areas they represent.

Even now, as detailed by a March 2018 Greenlining report, “low-income communities and communities of color suffer the most from transportation-related pollution, high transportation costs, and a lack of access to safe, reliable transportation options.” Newer technologies like electric vehicles and ridesharing systems are also more accessible to affluent people, while autonomous vehicles may cause job losses that impact some communities more than others. And research has shown that access to cars is associated with low-income people finding jobs and moving into neighborhoods where they have more access to resources like better schools.

“There’s a lot of inequity in the current system and lots of situations where as we transition and transform transportation, we need to ensure that we don’t make the system even more inequitable,” said Michelle Robinson, director of the clean vehicles program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “It’s a critical issue that should be on par with the top priorities of reducing emissions and reducing oil consumption in transportation.”

The Greenlining report, of which Creger is the lead author, cautions that without community consultation, planners could embed similar issues into future policies.

Greenlining lays out a three-step mobility equity framework that identifies a community’s needs, weighs the pros and cons of certain transportation decisions and ultimately leaves decision-making with the community. It aims to foreground community engagement to avoid the pitfalls of transit planning that leaves out the voices of what the Green New Deal calls “frontline and vulnerable communities,” such as indigenous communities and rural areas.

“We want to make sure that in creating these new transportation options under the Green New Deal, that we’re prioritizing those mobility options that are most equitable and accessible,” said Creger.

Public and private

In unveiling the resolution, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez said the Green New Deal would assist in “building solutions in places where the private sector will not.”

And though the document focuses on public policy, advocates say it will require a great deal of cooperation from corporations and likely significant investment from the private sector.

“You can’t do this with the public sector alone,” said Energy Innovation’s Harvey. “Ninety-plus percent of all energy decisions are made privately.”

The clean transportation industry would have to grow significantly to help meet the goals. In 2030, energy research and consulting group Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables forecasts that 16 percent of vehicles will be electric, including plug-in hybrids, in its base case. Producing all those batteries would require more than three Tesla Gigafactories. To get to 100 percent EV sales would require more than 20 Tesla Gigafactories, according to Ravi Manghani, director of energy storage at WoodMac.

“Neither of those numbers are insurmountable, but clearly will require massive amounts of investments from the industry,” said Manghani, who added that state policy struggles — like California’s issues with high-speed rail — expose the difficulties in transitioning the transportation sector.

“I’m not necessarily presenting a pessimistic view, but rather pitching for a massive overhaul in the current state of infrastructure investments,” he said.

So far, utilities such as Pacific Gas & Electric, along with startups like ChargePoint and Greenlots, have led initiatives to deploy more charging infrastructure. Companies such as electric bus maker Proterra have pushed electric vehicles into more segments, helped along by commitments like California’s to purchase only carbon-free bus buses by 2029. And corporations with big fleets, such as Walmart and UPS, are working to electrify, but cite issues like charging infrastructure as big barriers.

“If you think we’re going to substitute or replace the private sector’s control of the economy, we’re deluding ourselves,” said Harvey. “It’s a matter of setting public standards that are requirements.”

Kodjak at the International Council on Clean Transportation says the scope of the deal necessitates a “big, broad, bold partnership” that includes government agencies, environmental and labor groups, as well as corporate interests. That type of coalition has the best chance of crafting policies that align with the resolution’s call for just and environmentally-friendly jobs while transforming transportation.

Vidangos at the Alliance to Save Energy pointed to the collaboration between California, the auto industry, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration on auto-emissions standards as an example of how parties can work to find solutions amenable to all. “We need to see more of that kind of dialogue,” she said.

In September, the Alliance to Save Energy helped launch a group aiming to cut energy use in transportation by 50 percent by 2050. Leaders of the group include the mayor of Fort Worth, Texas and representatives from Audi and National Grid. But even achieving the 50 percent reduction goal set out by that group “requires us to basically fire on every cylinder,” said Vidangos. And, she added, “the ambition in [the Green New Deal] takes it a step further.”

Seizing the momentum

While the document continues to face serious political challenges — Sen. Mitch McConnell this week said he would put forth a vote in the Senate, where the resolution is expected to fail — experts say that doesn’t mean its proposals shouldn’t be seriously considered.

“There’s no question this is the most ambitious [climate] policy that has been advanced in the United States both in terms of the timeline and in terms of its scope,” said Dan Lashof, U.S. director at the World Resources Institute. “I’m not ready to say it’s feasible or to dismiss it as impossible at this point.”

What’s more important, experts said, is seizing the momentum the document has created to start a conversation and craft serious legislation.

“We’re not out of the starting gate yet, much less thinking about the finish line,” said Harvey at Energy Innovation. “We cannot do this by saying, ‘Let’s cross our fingers and hope by then we get it all done.’ Start now — and start with serious projects.”

California Must Address a Statewide Latino Physician Shortage

California Health Report

Despite California’s leadership in expanding health coverage to a record number of Californians, we have a crisis that hardly anyone is addressing: Our state still fails to provide the quality—and quantity—of care needed by our largest ethnic group.

According to research from the UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Initiative, Latinos represent over 40 percent of California’s population but make up less than 12 percent of graduating physicians from the state’s medical schools. At the current rate, it will take 500 years to reach a point where the number of Latino physicians is proportional to the number of Latino patients.

On January 15, The Greenlining Institute, the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, and the Latino Policy & Politics Initiative hosted a policy briefing to discuss solutions to address California’s Latino physician crisis. This discussion came hours after the California Future Health Workforce Commission released its formal recommendations to modernize the state’s health workforce delivery system.

Despite an extensive analysis, the commission’s report did not adequately highlight the gravity or scale of our Latino physician crisis. To put this into context, there are approximately 405 non-Hispanic white physicians for every 100,000 non-Hispanic white patients, but only 46 Latino physicians for every 100,000 Latino patients.

It’s no coincidence that communities of color—who are underrepresented in almost all health professions—are disproportionately affected by poor health outcomes. According to the federal Office of Minority Health, Latinos suffer from heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases at much higher rates than whites. Furthermore, they are less likely to have health insurance and are twice as likely to live at or below the poverty level.

This health vulnerability means Latinos urgently need access to culturally and linguistically appropriate care.

Increasing the number of Latino physicians across the state will benefit all Californians. Having diverse physicians who are culturally and linguistically competent improves the quality of health care for everyone.

How can we address this crisis? For starters, the Latino Policy & Politics Initiative recently released a series of landmark policy briefs outlining the various challenges Californians face in accessing health care and the reforms needed to address the lack of Latino physicians. We need to increase medical school admissions for Latino students and Spanish speakers, incentivize Latino medical school graduates who are trained out-of-state to practice in California, certify more physicians trained outside of the United States to practice in California, and increase the number of California residency slots. One key proposal urges state legislators to appropriate at least $100 million to expand residency slots. In addition, medical schools must ensure their admissions programs robustly recruit Latino students.

So far, Gov. Gavin Newsom has followed through on his promises to make health care a priority. He released a budget expanding health coverage to undocumented young adults up to the age of 26, appointed California’s first surgeon general, and threw his support behind a flurry of proposals aimed at increasing affordability, access and quality of care across the state—all in his first week in office. This bodes well for California’s future, but it’s not sufficient to address the health needs of California’s culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

If the state continues to turn a blind eye toward the Latino physician crisis, we risk perpetuating or worsening health disparities that harm the Latino population and other disenfranchised communities. Action on this issue requires policymakers, educational institutions and health employers to prioritize racial equity and move boldly to address our critical shortage of Latino physicians.

Sonja Diaz is the executive director of the UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Initiative. Jeffrey Reynoso is the executive director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California. Anthony Galace is the director of health equity at The Greenlining Institute.

My Turn: Self-Driving Cars Must Not Leave the Rest of Us Behind

By Alvaro Sanchez and Susan Shaheen

Starry-eyed predictions aside, critical issues are missing from the discussion about how self-driving cars will revolutionize  transportation.

Low-income Californians cannot lift themselves out of poverty if they lack reliable transportation. Without it, they cannot gain access to jobs, education and other opportunities.

Too often, transportation decisions prioritize the movement of personal vehicles that are often out of reach of low-income households. We must break this cycle.

Available figures consistently show that lower-income Americans spend a higher percentage of their income on transportation than the wealthy do, and a Harvard study found that a lengthy commute impairs a person’s ability to escape poverty.

People who drive increasingly get stuck in traffic. No wonder many people see the coming age of driverless cars as just the sort of magic bullet that will solve these problems. They are wrong.

Self-driving vehicles won’t fix these problems. The problem is not one of technology. Rather, the problem stems from a failure to prioritize people over cars.

Many supposed transportation revolutions, from buses and streetcars, to interstate highways and Uber, have led to increased segregation and growing wealth gaps between the rich and the poor.

Self-driving technology could exacerbate entrenched social and environmental problems, if we don’t make deliberate policy choices, especially for marginalized groups.

We can easily imagine a dystopian scenario in which people with money purchase personal self-driving cars, while the rest of us are mired in congested streets, with reduced mobility as public transit gets short-changed due to ridership loss.

We could have a society of transportation haves and have-nots even worse than what we see today: The affluent few whisked around effortlessly in self-driving cars, while the less well-off struggle to get around.

Unregulated, we could see a driverless car future that increases inequality, as high-income people become the natural early adopters, with companies catering to them and leaving poor people and people with disabilities behind.

Further contributing to the wealth inequality associated with the deployment of self-driving vehicles is the potential job loss associated with automation. Our research shows this will particularly impact African-Americans and Latinos, who hold a high percentage of transportation-related jobs.

So how do we make this technological revolution work for all Californians?

  • We must seize this opportunity to create a transportation system that is rooted in people and promotes vibrant, healthy, and clean places for people to live, work, and play—places that prioritize  the movement of people over the movement of cars.

When The Greenlining Institute reviewed the issues in depth, we found that part of the answer lies in what some call FAVES–fleets of automated vehicles that are electric and shared–if governments guide their development with smart policies designed to meet the needs of all users, including marginalized populations.

  • Second, equity must be a central focus in the research, development, and deployment of fleets of automated vehicles that are electric and shared, and other forms of driverless vehicles to ensure that these emerging mobility services meet the needs of all marginalized groups.

Money saved by having driverless trains and buses can be used to lower fares for low-income riders and improve service. We might also require fleet operators to not limit their services to high-profit areas but also provide mobility in rural communities and low-income neighborhoods.

We could also mitigate job loss associated with automation by guaranteeing a just transition for impacted workers, with training programs that have real jobs at their conclusion and a strong social safety net for people who can’t find new employment.

And we should consider requiring fair labor standards for the new jobs this emerging industry will create, in addition to prioritizing the hiring of marginalized populations.

  • Third, we must embrace mobility equity. Automated vehicle technology should support and contribute to creating a just and fair transportation system that provides mobility options for underserved populations, reduced pollution, and enhances economic opportunities.

With focused policy interventions, we can create a clean transportation system that works for all, bridging the divide between rich and poor rather than worsening it. A transportation revolution is arriving. This is one time we can’t be asleep at the wheel.

Alvaro Sanchez is environmental equity director at The Greenlining Institute, Susan Shaheen is an adjunct professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Berkeley and is co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center,

Self-Driving Cars Need to be Steered in a Climate-Smart Direction

Union of Concerned Scientists
By Don Anair

The roving autonomous vehicles on the streets of San Francisco are one of the frequent reminders on my daily commute that our transportation system is changing. But will self-driving cars be good or bad for climate change?

Imaginations can run wild with “heaven or hell” scenarios of automated cars.  Imagine zooming around uncongested roads and highways while passengers attend to their social media, relax with friends, or take in a movie in a clean, electric vehicle.  Or, in the darker vision, zombie cars with no passengers are clogging roads and spewing pollution, urban sprawl is given a new life, and marginalized communities continue to lack good transportation options. As this technology comes to market, it will be up to decision makers to set us on the right course with smart policies.

Some researchers have been putting pen to paper to better understand the potential climate risks of self-driving cars (or autonomous or automated vehicles (AVs) as they are otherwise called) as well as their potential climate benefits. This research is providing important insights into the potential for building a modern transportation system that is less polluting, less congested, more equitable and more efficient than what we have today. It also highlights the significant risks of inaction and the difficulty of achieving the best outcomes.

3 Revolutions and a Multi-Modal Future: Autonomous, Electric, and Sharing Rides

Let’s start with the positive vision first. Self-driving car technologies are paired with electric vehicles, which we’ve shown have lower carbon emissions no matter where you live in the U.S.  In addition, AVs usher in a new wave of transportation services—think Uber and Lyft 2.0—where rides are more convenient than individual vehicle ownership and are cost-competitive.  This leads to a reduction in personal car ownership, since not owning a car is now a more viable, cheaper option for households.  Reduced car-ownership alone doesn’t solve the problem, but when paired with increased access to mobility options like shared bikes, scooters, and efficient mass transit, individuals now choose from a variety of options for each trip, rather than always defaulting to the car formerly parked in their driveway. Sharing or pooling of rides is seamless and offers a lower-cost option, access to faster moving car-pool lanes and lower tolls, while reducing the number of cars on the road.  This ideal future of clean, equitable, and accessible mobility is one of autonomous, electric, and pooled car trips combined with urban design and infrastructure that supports walking, scooters, bikes, and mass transit, and pricing signals that steer choices towards the cleanest, most efficient modes of travel.

What happens to climate emissions in this future? Researchers at University of California Davis and Institute for Transportation & Development Policy examined a future scenario where AVs are incorporated into a highly shared, multimodal, and electric urban transportation system.  They found, globally, urban transportation pollution could be reduced by 80 percent by 2050 and massive increases in congestion could be avoided, with vehicle miles traveled actually declining by 25 percent instead of increasing by 50 percent in the business as usual case (see figure).

This scenario of a future transportation system meets the travel demands of a growing population while driving down climate emissions.  And it requires coordinated policies to work, including compact development as well as policies that make the lowest emission and most efficient modes of transport the most attractive.  But what if that’s not what happens? What if we don’t make the decisions necessary to support the future described above, and instead take a hands-off approach to AV deployment?

The nightmare AV future: More vehicle miles, more congestion, more pollution, less equity

As wonderful as the vision of “three revolutions” is, it would be foolish to think that this vision of the future is likely—or even possible—without a lot of work. Here are a few ways that things could go wrong.

AVs could dramatically increase driving

If AVs primarily enable increased single occupancy vehicle trips, we are in trouble. One widely-cited study looked at a wide range of impacts AVs could have on energy consumption, travel and carbon emissions.  And there are many factors (see figure). Everything from the energy savings of robot eco-driving to energy and travel increases from newly empowered individuals who previously did not have the ability to drive their own vehicle. There are several potential impacts on both sides of the ledger, but the biggest potential increase in energy use (and by association, emissions) comes from a behavioral response to AVs.  If driving can now be productive time, longer commutes, for example, may not be the burden they once were.  This is one way in which AVs could reduce the time-cost of driving (see “travel cost reduction” results in the figure) and increase overall vehicle travel – as much as 60% according to the study.  Recent modeling of possible AV deployment in the Washington, D.C. metro region showed similar results, estimating that vehicle miles traveled could increase 46-66% with the introduction of self-driving cars.

So will people really drive that much more? Some researchers did an experiment to see what would happen to a household’s vehicle travel if they had access to a vehicle and a driver for a week – mimicking life with a self-driving car. Not surprisingly, most households used the vehicle more often (83% average increase in miles traveled), and even sent the car and driver out on errands (21% of the increase was zero-occupancy).  While there were only 13 participants in the study, which limits the generalization of the findings, the experiment does illustrate the potential behavioral shifts when a vehicle that can drive itself is introduced into a household. Why not send the car to pick-up your dry cleaning or take that trip to Aunt Esmerelda’s you’ve been putting off?

AVs could increase congestion and undermine transit, instead of complementing it

Pooling rides is essential to making AVs deliver on their potential to be clean, equitable and efficient.  Pooling rides for people with similar origins and destinations can deliver more passenger trips from fewer vehicle trips, which is key to making efficient use of vehicles (reducing pollution per trip) and roads (reducing congestion per trip).  But while pooled AVs could help increase the average occupancy of cars, they could also undermine our most important current source of pooling, mass transit.  A car with 2-3 people sharing a ride is an improvement over each person driving alone, but it is a lot more vehicles, pollution and congestion than 30 people in a bus, or several hundred in a subway or train.

Based on the current evidence, especially in larger cities where mass transit is especially important, ride-haling is pulling more people from modes like transit, walking and biking than it is pooling passengers who would otherwise drive alone. This mode shift, along with additional trips that that wouldn’t have been made in the absence of ride-hailing options, is leading to increases in congestion and increased vehicle miles traveled.  (See research by Clewlow & Mishra, Schaller, and University of Kentucky) Moreover, reduced ridership on mass transit hurts the economics of these critical systems as they lose fare revenue.  Adding AVs to ride-hailing fleets could drive down ride costs and exacerbate the changes in vehicle travel and transit impacts we are already seeing.

Roads snarled in congestion are not a good outcome for anyone, including companies that want to use these roads to sell people rides, pooled or otherwise.  So, new rules and incentives will be needed to efficiently manage transportation networks as private companies operate what are in effect private transit systems with occupancy sometimes higher than today’s cars but most often lower than today’s mass transit. Policy-makers will need to prioritize the movement of people over vehicles with policies that favor higher occupancy trips and modes. These could  take the form of preferential pricing, access to restricted lanes and ensuring that the financial model of mass-transit adapts along the way

If we don’t succeed in ensuring rides are largely pooled in both cars and in mass transit modes like rail and subway, not only will congestion get worse, but we will fail to reduce climate emissions to safe levels as electrifying our transportation system is simply not enough.   In the UC Davis/ITDP study, a “2 Revolution” scenario with AVs and widespread electrification but WITHOUT significant pooling of trips resulted in emissions reductions globally in 2050 by only 45% – far less than needed to stabilize our climate.

AVs could exacerbate or perpetuate inequities in our current transportation system

Our current car-ownership-based transportation system does not serve all communities in an equitable way. Lower income households spend a larger share of their income on transportation than wealthier households. Those who cannot afford a car, or are too old or young to drive, or have physical handicaps to driving, have to rely on a transit system that often doesn’t meet their needs.

AVs could improve mobility for communities historically underserved by our current transportation system – if the technology enables greater access to affordable, accessible and reliable transportation. If, however, AV technology is primarily relegated to private car ownership and leads to increased congestion or undermines public transit, as described above, the current inequities will be exacerbated.

A new report by the Greenlining Institute describes in more details the health, economic and mobility risks of AVs for marginalized groups like people of color, the poor, the elderly, and those with disabilities, and offers a list of recommendations to policymakers for ensuring the rollout of AVs leads to greater mobility options for all. UCS will also be releasing a report soon with results from an analysis of the Washington DC metro area and how the rollout of AVs in that region could impact transportation equity.  This research is important for informing the policies necessary to maximize the benefits of self-driving technology.

Now’s the time to get on the right path

Research is providing some helpful insights on understanding the potential role of AVs in a transportation system that cuts climate emissions and improves mobility.  It also offers a cautionary tale of the potential for AVs to dramatically increase emissions and exacerbate congestion if decision makers are not proactive and thoughtful about putting in place the policies that will lead us to the best outcomes.

We are starting to see some positive action on this front.  In California, legislation (SB1014) signed into law last year requires state agencies to develop standards to ensure ride-hailing companies are moving towards greater shared, zero-emission trips. Since AVs are likely to be rolled out in ride-hailing services, these rules will affect AV deployment.  But that’s only a drop in the bucket. Developing effective public policy to ensure AVs deliver climate and transportation system benefits requires shared goals, effective interagency coordination, and development and implementation of effective policy at different levels of government.  In California, UCS is sponsoring legislation with CALSTART (SB59 authored by Senator Ben Allen) that would get the ball rolling at the state level and ensure proactive policies can be deployed as AV technology is hitting the street.

Smart policies are critical for ensuring self-driving car technology ushers in a new era of clean, affordable, and efficient transportation rather than the zombie car apocalypse.  AVs may be able to drive themselves, but it is up to us to steer them in the right direction.