In search of cleaner and greener freight hauling

March 15, 2010
A new report from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) urges Congress to create a “cleaner and greener” freight transportation system in the U.S. EDF seeks to have pollution reduced from truck engines, rail locomotives, and ship engines alike via new technologies and strategies that it says can be implemented without impinging on the national freight system

A new report from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) urges Congress to create a “cleaner and greener” freight transportation system in the U.S. EDF seeks to have pollution reduced from truck engines, rail locomotives, and ship engines alike via new technologies and strategies that it says can be implemented without impinging on the national freight system.

In “The Good Haul: Freight Innovations for the 21st Century,” EDF states that a complex system of shipping routes, rail lines, highways, ports, and rail yards delivers nearly everything bought, built, manufactured – even eaten – in the U.S., and the tonnage handled is only expected to grow. By 2020, EDF notes, more than 90 million tons of freight are expected to move in the U.S.-- an 80% increase from 2002.

Yet the freight sector alone represents approximately 8% of total U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. And freight’s share of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is increasing faster than other transportation modes. That load has jumped almost 60% since 1990, or more than double that of passenger travel (27%).

“Air pollution from freight is also an enormous health risk,” said the report’s authors, EDF researchers Carrie Denning and Camille Kustin. “In 2005, pollution at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach – the two largest ports in the U.S. – amounted to health costs of $19 billion for the state of California need to clean up our freight system, and this report highlights case studies in shipping, rail, trucking, and cargo handling equipment that have proven to be good for the environment, local communities, and companies’ bottom line.”

Trucking is a major focus of the report, notably in terms of what the group considers to be “clean freight” successes. “Hybrid diesel trucks are a win-win case study,” the authors said. “Companies such as FedEx, Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Inc. and Ryder have begun purchasing these trucks, which offer 30% to 50% greenhouse gas emissions reductions, 96% diesel particulate matter reductions and 65% nitrogen oxide reductions when compared to 1999 trucks. These trucks also have fuel savings of between 30% and 57%.”

As a result, Congress should include comprehensive funding policies in the upcoming transportation reauthorization bill to both modernize freight transportation and clean it up by favoring such innovations, according to EDF.

“Freight is growing fast; It is bad for our health, our environment, and the climate,” Denning and Kustin said. “There are solutions, and these solutions are economically smart, protect us from harmful pollution and minimize greenhouse gases. Transportation funding policies need to support freight clean-up.”

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr | Editor in Chief

Sean previously reported and commented on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry. Also be sure to visit Sean's blog Trucks at Work where he offers analysis on a variety of different topics inside the trucking industry.

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