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The Los Angeles Times reports that in Southern California, the South Coast Air Quality Management District has adopted new regulations - said to be the first in the nation - designed to cut down on pollution and reduce the health risks in communities where "massive logistics warehouses" have been built.

With the opening of these warehouses, the Times writes, have come "increasing numbers of diesel trucks … plying routes closer to homes, schools and neighborhoods," which tend to be "disproportionately Black and Latino … already burdened with some of the dirtiest air in the nation."

According to the piece, "Under the rules, warehouses 100,000 square feet or larger - about the size of two football fields - must take steps to cut or offset emissions associated with their operations or pay a mitigation fee to fund similar air quality improvements nearby … facilities must choose from a menu of pollution reduction and mitigation options, such as using electric or natural-gas-fueled trucks, installing charging stations, erecting rooftop solar panels or putting air filters in neighboring schools and child-care centers — a measure that some board members complained would not reduce pollution, only exposure to it."

The Times writes that "the regulations will have the greatest effect in the Inland Empire, where relatively cheap land within a reasonable drive of the nation’s largest port complex has triggered development of massive distribution and fulfillment centers, including mega-warehouses that exceed 1 million square feet. Dubbed both 'America’s shopping cart' and 'diesel death zones,' these communities have only grown busier during the COVID-19 pandemic, as online shopping pushes the volume of cargo moving through the region to record levels."

In its coverage, the New York Times writes that "the changes could also help spur a more rapid electrification of freight tucks, a significant step toward reducing emissions from transportation, the country’s biggest source of planet-warming greenhouse gases. The emissions are a major contributor to smog-causing nitrogen oxides and diesel particulate matter pollution, which are linked to health problems including respiratory conditions."

The New York Times also reports that "large retailers like Amazon and Walmart — who have pledged to clean up the environmental effects of their supply chains, including electrifying their fleets — have largely stayed on the sidelines of the debate.

"Walmart, which has committed to operate 100 percent zero-emission trucks by 2040, did not respond to a request for comment. Amazon said it was 'committed to finding innovative solutions to reduce emissions.' The online retailer has pledged to be net zero carbon emissions across its business, also by 2040."

If you want to read the entire LA Times story, click here.


KC's View:

This is yet another example of the repercussions, often unseen and even unimagined, of e-commerce.

It is such a fascinating story.  I would imagine it is possible, even likely, that these regulations could be replicated in a lot of other markets.  At the very least, we're likely to see activism pushing for such rules occurring in other places, which will create its own kind of momentum.

One of the passages that I found most telling in the LA Times story was this one:

A report by the Inland Empire-based People’s Collective for Environmental Justice and the University of Redlands examined e-commerce sales to find that the communities with the greatest concentrations of warehouses, such as Ontario, Fontana and San Bernardino, do the least online shopping among large cities in the Greater L.A. region.

That's no small thing.

There are different ways to react to this.  One is to say the hell with it, progress requires a little sacrifice and if you don’t want to live in a death zone, move out.

Another way is to put more money into clean technology so that we don’t use diesel fuel in trucks anymore.

The stories make clear that even if there has been no push back from the likes of Walmart and Amazon, there certainly is resistance in the business community, where some people feel that the solutions being proposed - actually, imposed - on the warehouses and the trucks that serve them are way too expensive.

I'm not sure what "way too expensive" means, though.  The research seems to make very clear that there are entire communities being victimized by the industry … and in ways that are completely unacceptable.

It doesn't have to be this way.  If we put a real emphasis on investing in clean technologies that will allow us to to solve these problems, it will be better for everyone in the long term.

Two other things.

One,I suspect that these kinds of regulations are not good for the CFC trend, which in some ways may depend on these large diesel trucks to a greater extent than the small MFCs, which may be better able to adapt to smaller and electric vehicles.  

Second, I think these regulations have to be seen in the context of the greater Environmental, Social & Corporate Governance (ESG) movement, in which companies are prodded by various entities - ranging from social activists to investment groups - to consider these issues when shaping their business plans and strategies.

This isn't just about trucks.  it is about something larger and far more consequential.