Efforts to improve the Inland region’s air quality through the use of cleaner technology is encouraging, explained Erlinda Murillo, who owns a small home about two blocks away from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railyard in San Bernardino and several hundred feet from Omnitrans’ corporate headquarters.
Though Murillo said her asthma and cancer ailing neighbors have already been “morally and physically” damaged by smog and other toxins. According to a Loma Linda University study released in 2013, approximately 47 percent of people who live near the Medical Center Drive and 5th Street corridors have some sort of respiratory illness.
Murillo said many residents no longer believe in the promise of clean air.
“New technology, electric trucks may not do anything to improve our health,” she said. “We’re already contaminated. Many of us are struggling to survive here.”
Nevertheless, Murillo and other environmental advocates hope air regulators continue to adopt air quality plans that lay ambitious goals of reducing pollution through the adoption of zero emission technology and enforcement of stricter regulations.
“We need to hold [air regulators] accountable,” Murillo said. “We have to keep fighting.”
In recent years California has invested millions of dollars to develop programs to reduce pollution in struggling communities like San Bernardino. The California Air Resources Board last year awarded a $9 billion grant to the San Bernardino Associated Governments (SANBAG) for the purchase and placing of 27 battery-electric trucks at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railyards in San Bernardino and Commerce and the Daylight Trucking transport facility in Fontana.
As of March 13, four of the 27 trucks are being used by the aforementioned facilities. State officials believe the new trucks will alleviate the impact of diesel emissions.
“Electric trucks mean cleaner air for all Californians, especially those who live in neighborhoods close to freight transfer facilities and rail yards,” California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols said in a press statement. “It’s exciting to see the first of these ultra-clean trucks put to work.”
San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford, who sits on the South Coast Air Quality Management District board, expressed worry regarding the district’s decision to add a provision to the Air Quality Management Plan to require the accelerated purchase of near zero emission and zero emission heavy duty vehicles.
Rutherford told her colleagues at the Air Quality Management District earlier this month that the Inland Empire does not have the ability to switch from diesel trucks to cleaner vehicles.
“We’re concerned that we literally cannot get heavy duty trucks out and about to all the areas of our County,” said Rutherford. “We do not now or will we ever have the infrastructure to support zero emission vehicles.”
Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice Alliance Policy Manager Michele Hasson believes resorting to near zero emission trucks is not enough. The electrification of heavy duty vehicles is the only way air quality can be improved, she argued.
“We don’t need anymore crutches,” Hasson expressed. “Our communities are struggling. We have the technology. The more we invest in it, the cheaper it gets. It’s kind of a no brainer.”
Murillo, who continues to undergo medical treatment for tumors, hopes more of her neighbors will speak out against polluters.
“They’re damaging our communities and their damaging our health,” said Murillo. “I invite them to come to our neighborhood and breathe what we breathe. I’m still waiting for them to reach out to me.”