Executive Summary

Low and zero-emissions zones (LEZs and ZEZs)—designated areas of a city in which vehicles must meet certain emissions requirements to enter—are a policy tool available to cities to im- prove air quality, reduce congestion, raise revenue, and achieve climate goals. If thoughtfully developed and implemented, these zones can also address racial and economic equity in communi- ties disproportionately burdened by vehicle pollution.

This document summarizes the key findings of a primer developed by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Green- lining Institute. The primer is not meant to be prescriptive; rather, it should help policymakers and stakeholders understand and evaluate the utility of LEZs and ZEZs for their communities, and provide considerations toward equitable policymaking should they choose to pursue such zones.

Making Equity Real in ZEZs

The primer investigates whether ZEZs can be designed equita- bly and, if so, how such zones can be implemented in California while considering the diverse needs of each community as well as regulatory constraints.

Equity concerns about existing ZEZs include a general lack of information and education for laypeople about these zones; the ability to pay fees, fines, and penalties for using a gasoline or diesel vehicle within the zone; ensuring a focus on the greatest sources of pollution inequity—often medium- and heavy-duty vehicle emissions; potential economic and pollution displace- ment burdens on low-income communities and communities of color; and the fair use of revenue generated from ZEZs.

The Greenlining Institute gathered qualitative information from various stakeholders working on air pollution mitigation efforts in communities located in East Los Angeles, Fresno, the Inland Empire, San Diego, and Stockton. The following six points consistently emerged from the stakeholder interviews, and are critical to consider in the development of any ZEZ:

  • Risk of burden on local residents
  • Enforcement and accountability concerns
  • Trust between local government and community members
  • Distribution of benefits and complementary policies to achieve increasing equity benchmarks
  • Targeting emissions sources that are appropriate for a given community
  • Funding oversight

How LEZz and ZEZs Can Benefit Communities

One of the major potential benefits of a ZEZ is a reduction in harmful tailpipe pollution. Exposure to air pollution generated from on-road vehicles harms people and is linked to many ail- ments, including asthma, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.

ZEZs have the potential to eliminate tailpipe emissions in a targeted area. By replacing combustion engines with electric motors, the vast majority of vehicle emissions can be eliminated. If these zones are placed to benefit disadvantaged communities that currently have high exposure to air pollution, the zones have the potential to start to reduce existing inequities in pol- lution burden between racial and economic groups. While a community-wide ZEZ may not be possible today, even a partial removal of tailpipe pollution via a ZEZ for larger trucks would have benefits; see the table on the next page for a summary of the ways in which emissions zones can make a difference in communities.

Policy Recommendations

Where needed, states should make regulatory changes to allow LEZs to be designed by cities such that specific needs of the communities are addressed, and encourage these zones to be developed with public oversight and stakeholder engagement. They should also provide cities with technical assistance, fund- ing, and measurement, evaluation, and learning resources needed to make the most of pilot projects, especially in under-resourced communities.

If local entities are interested in designing an LEZ pilot, they can help maximize a zone’s benefits and mitigate potential harms by communicating early and often with their stakehold- ers, including vulnerable communities and affected businesses; conducting comprehensive feasibility and risk assessments and communicating the results; and seeking and incorporating pub- lic feedback at all stages of design, implementation, manage- ment, and operation.

There are additional factors to consider when considering these zones in communities of color. Enforcement mechanisms must not perpetuate systems of oppression; for example, it is not recommended that police enforce the zone, and fines must not further harm the most economically disadvantaged individuals. Community stakeholders also must be at the table to decide what enforcement mechanisms—such as automatic license plate readers—may be appropriate.