Opinion | Michigan must invest in electric trucks for the health of families
The other day, I counted more than100 industrial trucks driving past my local community center in a single hour, making their route from the United States to Canada on Interstate 75.
My local community center is tucked between Marathon’s oil refinery and heavily trafficked roads, a landscape that is built upon a legacy of racist housing and development policies that make it difficult for my community to breathe. We’ve been dealing with the impact of COVID-19 for a year now, but I’ve seen environmental racism harm my friends and family members for far longer.
I’ve lived in the shadows of these carbon emitting factories in southwest Detroit, in Michigan’s most toxic zip code, 48217, my entire life. My community is majority (over 80 percent) Black, and it is no mistake or coincidence that we live next to multiple pollution sources and suffer from high rates of asthma, cancer and respiratory problems, as well as other health problems linked to air pollution.
My economic status, zip code, or race should not determine my ability to breathe clean air. As an environmental justice organizer, my connection to this work is deeply personal, because I’ve seen what this pollution has done to my own family and friends. We have been working for years to pressure Marathon to pay for the damage of the pollution it has released onto our community and to listen to our voices about the disastrous impacts of the oil industry’s operations in our neighborhood.
On the other end of the oil industry’s environmental injustice is the mobile pollution from the diesel trucks and the black carbon they emit.
Across the country and in Michigan, communities of color and low-income households are exposed to higher levels of air pollution from transportation due to high levels of traffic from cars, buses, and commercial trucks.
As momentum builds around cleaning up the transportation sector in order to act on climate and save lives, we cannot leave the most impacted communities behind. When Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigeg talks about how highways divide Black communities, and how cars and trucks on those highways spew disproportionate amounts of pollution onto us, he’s talking about my community. We’re ready for change; we've been ready.
The good news is that there is an existing multi-state framework that Michigan can join right now in order to commit the state to taking action to clean up dirty, pollution-spewing trucks.
Last year, 15 states and DC committed to work together to electrify diesel trucks and buses and ensure 100 percent electric truck and bus sales by 2050. This agreement, known as a memorandum of understanding (MOU), is one that governors around the country can join. I urge Governor Gretchen Whitmer to take this common-sense step towards cleaning up truck pollution.
Signing onto this agreement will make sure that Whitmer centers this equitable solution within her Michigan Healthy Climate Plan, and momentum is building. The US Climate Alliance has endorsed the MOU and asked its member states, including Michigan, to join. A coalition of businesses, environmental justice, active transportation, and environmental groups recently sent a letter urging Whitmer to sign on.
Additionally, more than 50 major companies and institutions have signaled their support for the electrification of commercial trucking and driving forward a clean transportation future. Major businesses, institutions, healthcare systems, and employers joined together to encourage state leaders to take action on this issue.
Our governor has an important opportunity right now to invest in clean trucks and address a big source of air pollution. My community is not a sacrifice zone for the movement of goods, nor the dumping ground for an industrial plant. The level of pollution exposure that we experience on a daily basis is not normal, and we do not accept it as the cost of doing business.
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