Maurissa Brown

Transportation Equity Program Manager

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Got packages? If you enjoy the convenience of two day Amazon shipping, then you are a direct beneficiary of medium and heavy-duty vehicles, or MHDVs. Though MHDVs have many uses, like collecting trash or transporting people, they are integral to freight transportation across the country. They are a critical part of the global and U.S. economy, moving trillions of dollars worth of goods every year, and the vast majority run on polluting fossil fuels.

The consequences of freight transportation pollution are not experienced equally. Decisionmakers of the past and present are responsible for zoning freight corridors–ports, highways, and warehouse facilities where these vehicles operate—near and through disadvantaged communities. This is the result of historic redlining and harmful legacy planning that allows polluting MHDVs to negatively impact the health and well-being of low-income folks and communities of color.

As pollution-driven climate change looms, with communities of color and low-income communities shouldering the brunt of climate-related impacts, federal and state governments are finally starting to take action. And while it is essential to invest public funds in cleaner, more sustainable transportation, equity must guide these investments at every step to maximize benefits and address the deeply rooted inequities that have created the disproportionate pollution burdens we see today.

We explore how to do this in The Greenlining Institute’s Clean Mobility Equity Playbook. This report serves as both a guide for California to evolve clean mobility programs to more meaningfully center equity, and as a guide for other states and the federal government as they move to develop and implement clean transportation equity programs, projects, and policies. Included in the report is the Making Equity Real Framework, that unpacks opportunities to embed equity through:

1. Mission, Vision and Values — How is equity described in the context of the overall mission/ goal? Is equity a core component? Is equity missing?

2. Process — How was equity embedded into the process of developing the program? How was equity embedded into program implementation? How are decisions made or influenced by communities that have less political power or voice?

3. Outcomes — How has implementation led to equity outcomes? What explicit equity outcomes are described in the program?

4. Measurement and Analysis — How is equity progress measured? How do we know that equity goals and community benefits were achieved? 

Below, we’ll focus on building equity into the second step–the Process–using a case study from a recent and ongoing project led by East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice in Los Angeles with funding and support from Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator.

Equity in the Process: Planning a Zero-Emission Medium and Heavy-Duty Vehicle Project

Zero-emission MHDV projects are initiatives to transition fossil fuel MHDVs and/or infrastructure to zero-emission alternatives, or mitigate toxic pollution and other impacts from these vehicles. When developing a zero-emission MHDV project, rather than coming in with a perspective, or predetermined idea, it is important to design a process for the community to influence or co-create in a way that takes a multi-faceted, holistic approach to the possibilities of what a project can accomplish. Doing this requires strong, trusting multi-stakeholder partnership.

Critical stakeholders and partnerships to ensure equitable implementation

The main stakeholders in equitable MHDV projects are: 

  • Community partners, including but not limited to: Tribal leaders, impacted community members, youth advocates, community-based organizations, environmental justice organizations, and/or local transportation equity leaders
  • Labor organizations and groups
  • Fleet managers or individual owner-operators

Other important partnerships may include local, regional, and state governments, port authorities, research institutions, local banking or credit unions, industry or trucking association, utility providers, zero emission medium and heavy-duty manufacturers or dealerships, and zero-emission fuel providers. Once a project is selected and main stakeholders identified, project leaders need to build trust and deeply understand the values and needs of each stakeholder. We recommend referring to Greenlining’s Memorandum of Understanding activity that outlines how a multi-stakeholder group should work together to advance a community vision.

A Case Study of Equity in the Process: I-710 Charging Station Development Driven By Community Lived Experience

The following case study demonstrates how to build equity into the process of developing a MHDV project. 

East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice has led activism related to the I-710 freeway since 2001. They formed the Coalition for Environmental Health and Justice or CEHAJ, a group of community and health partners focused on health and well-being in communities located along the I-710.

The I-710 runs from Long Beach to East Los Angeles and carries a significant amount of freight moving out of the Port of Long Beach and the Port of Los Angeles. At least 40% of all goods imported to the U.S. enter the country through these two ports. This corridor slashes between neighborhoods that are predominantly low income and communities of color. Due to truck traffic and congestion, this corridor has become known to residents to create “diesel death zones”, as the freeway is responsible for 20% of cancer-causing diesel particulate emissions in Southern California.

In 2023, Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator was awarded a U.S. Department of Energy planning grant to develop zero-emission corridors and truck charging infrastructure near ports and the I-710. East Yard and CEHAJ worked with LACI to create a more equitable investment blueprint for heavy-duty charging for battery-electric drayage trucks along the I-710 corridor.

Eliminating diesel pollution is necessary for community health, but in such a dense area with many sensitive receptors, places like schools or churches where people frequent and are highly sensitive to pollutants, charging infrastructure placement must be informed by the lived experience of the people impacted by the freeway. That’s why it was critical for CEHAJ partners Communities for a Better Environment, Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma, along with East Yard, to host community workshops where they met with community members, leaders, transportation equity advocates and youth to walk them through potential sites for charging infrastructure.

Lessons learned for equitable community engagement from the I-710 project include: 

  • Ensure engagement includes community leaders and neighborhood advocates who have already devoted time and effort to changing the issue in their neighborhood
  • Offer community members multiple chances and various ways to participate to provide expertise on their lived experience
  • Demystify technical terms and use visual tools to walk community members through potential charging sites and allow space for discussion on impact
  • Develop a clear list of red tape: what the community absolutely does not want the project to impact or aggravate
  • Technical partners or project administrators must be amenable to community needs and decisions on sites
  • Build-in more resources & capacity to engage members beyond workshops 

Tackling the issue of pollution from MHDVs is crucial for both the health of our communities and the planet. As seen in the I-710 Charging Station Development case study, equitable solutions must be community-centered and inclusive of those most impacted by freight pollution. By embedding equity throughout the process, including strong partnerships with local stakeholders, we can create sustainable projects that address the needs and priorities of low-income communities and communities of color that have historically borne the brunt of pollution. By following Greenlining’s Making Equity Real Framework and drawing lessons from impactful projects, such as the I-710 development, we can work towards a future where equitable, zero-emission transportation is the norm.

To learn more about federal funding opportunities and other resources to get started on zero-emission MHDV projects, view our latest factsheet here.

Maurissa Brown

Transportation Equity Program Manager

Read Bio