Compiled by Natural Resources Defense Council
A trail of exhaust stretches from manufacturers abroad, through our ports, along our rail yards and drifts up from freeways as goods are moved from one place to another. Freight transportation hubs may help deliver the products that fill our stores and homes, but for those who live near them -- disproportionately low-income communities of color -- finding ways to clean up cargo is truly as important as the air we breathe. In fact, more than 13 million Americans (3.5 million of whom are children) live near major marine ports or rail yards, and proximity to that polluted air leads to health issues from aggravated asthma, to lung cancer, and even premature death.
Fortunately, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) offers communities public oversight over federal or federally-funded projects that will affect the environment -- including construction projects, permit approvals, and funding decisions involving ports, rail yards, and highways. NEPA gives the public a voice and brings the people's business out of the shadows and into the light of public scrutiny.
Dozens of measures can be incorporated in new freight projects or applied to existing railyards, port terminals and distribution centers to improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions. Cleaner and more efficient new engines can cut soot and smog-forming emissions and save fuel. In many cases, activities using diesel engines can be electrified. The use of more efficient modes, such as shipping goods by train where possible (using locomotives meeting the cleanest standards) instead of by truck, can make a big difference. Finally, any fossil fuel burning engine that remains in use can have modern exhaust controls added to filter out most pollution.