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  • Matt Tucker

Climate Action Hero: Andrea Vidaurre, tackling California's freight emissions

Andrea Vidaurre

In the spring of 2023, climate action hero Andrea Vidaurre’s grassroots leadership significantly impacted environmental policy in California. Her efforts led the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to implement two transformative transportation regulations aimed at drastically reducing trucking and rail emissions. These regulations—the In-Use Locomotive Rule and the California Advanced Clean Fleets Rule—are unprecedented. They set the first national emission rule for trains and chart a course for 100% zero-emission freight truck sales by 2036. This policy breakthrough, a direct result of Andrea’s tireless policy work and community organizing, promises to improve air quality for millions in California and hasten the nationwide shift to zero-emission vehicles.

California, with its dense population and critical role in freight transportation, is a leader in US climate policy. The California Air Resources Board (CARB), established in 1967, has long been a vanguard in setting air quality standards to protect public health. California’s unique position, granted by the US Clean Air Act in 1970, allows it to adopt stricter vehicle emissions standards than the federal government. This waiver has made California a trendsetter in emission policies, with many states adopting its stringent standards to combat pollution. Trucking and rail freight are significant contributors to local public health issues, such as asthma and respiratory illnesses, and to global climate change.

In 2023, medium and heavy-duty trucks constituted 10% of US vehicles but contributed 25% of transportation sector greenhouse gases. Rail engines, on their part, emitted 640 tons of toxic particulates annually. The Inland Empire region of California, encompassing Riverside and San Bernardino counties, bears the brunt of these emissions. Home to over four million people, primarily working-class Latino communities, the region suffers from the worst air quality in the nation. The area’s designation as a “diesel death zone” highlights the elevated cancer, asthma, and premature death rates, exacerbated since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The Inland Empire's air quality continues to deteriorate, driven by its status as the largest trucking hub in the US, thanks to the surge in next-day shipping and proximity to the major shipping port in Long Beach. The region’s infrastructure includes over one billion square feet of warehousing, large intermodal railyards, and multiple freight airports, supporting 600,000 daily truck trips and producing 25,000 tons of daily CO2 emissions. With over 4,000 warehouses, more than 600 are situated within 1,500 feet of public schools. Amazon, a major player in the region, began constructing the world’s largest warehouse facility locally in 2022.

Andrea Vidaurre, cofounder and policy coordinator of the People’s Collective for Environmental Justice, has been instrumental in addressing these issues. A lifelong resident of the Inland Empire, Andrea is deeply committed to combating the toxic emissions affecting her community. Her family’s history of working in warehouses and freight airports has fueled her determination to fight for environmental justice and a sustainable, fossil fuel-free economy.

Andrea began her climate activism in 2018, organizing communities affected by increased air pollution from rampant warehouse construction. Recognizing the need for broader action, she advocated for stricter truck emissions regulations, quickly establishing herself as a leader on the issue. Understanding the importance of workers’ rights, she mobilized warehouse and trucking labor unions to join a statewide coalition of environmental justice organizations. This coalition pushed CARB to address emissions from the truck and rail industry, leading to the initiation of a rulemaking process in late 2018.

The rulemaking process involved technical workshops with community members, industry representatives, and NGOs, and site visits to frontline communities to understand local challenges. Andrea’s policy expertise and community advocacy played a central role in these workshops. She organized “toxic tours” for CARB members and state legislators to witness the freight system’s impacts firsthand. Her outreach to state legislators led to a call for stronger truck emission rules in November 2019.

This advocacy resulted in CARB enacting the Advanced Clean Trucks rule in 2020, setting a timeline for zero-emissions truck sales. Encouraged but not satisfied, Andrea continued pushing for a complete phaseout of truck emissions and the inclusion of the rail industry. After two more years of policy work, she saw the potential for a complete diesel emissions phaseout from both sectors.

In October 2022, Andrea organized a caravan of concerned citizens to Sacramento for a critical CARB public hearing. The rally, supported by members from over 70 organizations, called for strengthened regulations. Inside, Andrea coordinated testimony, managed public comments, and spoke for the statewide coalition, paving the way for a consequential vote on new regulations.

In April 2023, CARB unanimously adopted the Advanced Clean Fleets Rule and the In-Use Locomotive Rule. These regulations aim to shift all new heavy-duty truck sales in California to zero emissions by 2036 and achieve heavy-duty truck and locomotive adoption by 2045. These are the most ambitious emissions reduction regulations in California’s history, potentially preventing thousands of premature deaths from respiratory illnesses over the next three decades.

Andrea’s work bridged the complexities of emission policy and local environmental justice movements. While the EPA's approval is pending and legal challenges loom, CARB encourages the trucking industry to begin phasing in the new zero-emissions mandates in 2024. At least eight states have indicated their intention to adopt California’s new trucking rules once approved by the EPA. The impact of these regulations will grow as more states

follow California’s lead, setting a new national standard for emission reductions.

Andrea Vidaurre’s leadership exemplifies the power of grassroots organizing in driving significant policy changes. Her work not only promises cleaner air for millions of Californians but also sets a critical precedent for national emission standards.

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