By Karla Briceño, a resident of San Bernardino and a community leader with the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice.
I have lived in San Bernardino for over twenty years. Over the past two decades, I have witnessed a serious decline in air quality. Like most families who moved to the Inland Empire from Los Angeles, we were in search for a better life. What we didn’t expect was the logistics boom that followed. It felt very much like an overnight increase in air pollution, an increase that my children would surely suffer from for years to come.
We live close to the Santa Fe Railyard here in San Bernardino, where thousands of trucks pass through every day. After years of suffering through wheezing and breathing attacks, I began to wonder: will my children and I ever breathe fresh, clean air? Or are we trapped in a diesel death zone?
We are being reminded of what we already know: black and brown communities suffer the most from pollution. Studies recently have shown that air pollution has not only made us susceptible to respiratory illnesses but also extremely vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. Most residents in my neighborhood live with elderly family members who can no longer afford to go to the grocery store due to the increased risk of contraction.
The racial and socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 reveal the consequences of environmental racism. Black people, at 46%, and Latinos, at 39%, are about twice as likely as their white counterparts to view the virus as a major threat to their health.
Nonetheless, we are ready to create a better living environment by demanding new standards that can protect our health.
California is working on an electric truck standard that will bring thousands of electric trucks to our neighborhoods. For years we have travelled hundreds of miles to Sacramento to urge the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to adopt the strongest possible standard. The pandemic and the impacts it is having in our communities has only reinforced our commitment to push for a transition to zero-emission trucks. Unfortunately, the same industries that are doing very little to address our public health concerns locally are taking advantage of our current health crisis to ask CARB to slow down on electrification. We cannot allow for corporate polluters to use the economy as an easy out from upholding public health standards.
In fact, electrifying truck fleets opens up an opportunity to build on the burgeoning electric vehicle market that already has created thousands of jobs statewide. Our region can benefit both from the job creation and health benefits electric truck manufacturing will bring. Essentially, it is a win-win for working families.
Families like mine are ready to fight for a zero emissions, clean air future. It’s up to our state leaders to do what’s right and move forward with an electric truck rule that will bring some justice to black and brown families.