“Men argue.  Nature acts.” – Voltaire

The recently released Sustainable Freight Action Plan, which tries to balance economic and environmental objectives in the race to meet climate protection goals in California, is getting mixed reviews.

Developed by several state agencies in conjunction with stakeholder groups, the Plan is intended to meet the objective of improving efficiency and reducing pollution of the freight transport system in California, as set forth by Governor Brown in an Executive Order issued last year.

California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols said, “We listened to stakeholders, incorporated changes and will consult with them as we put the Plan into action.  This dialogue…is the underpinning for the successful transformation of our freight transport system and the multiple benefits it brings to our environment, communities and our economy.”

However, EarthJustice maintains that the Plan comes up short saying that. “..We need a bolder vision.  The freight industry has imposed its impacts of California communities for decades, and California must exhibit more strength in tackling this pernicious problem.”

And, the trucking industry is pushing back, for other reasons. In responding to the Plan, the California Trucking Association maintains that for California to “spur innovation” in zero and near-zero emission technologies, the state “must make a business case for new investment from the trucking industry, which is already spending $1 billion a year to bring about a more sustainable freight system. Broad expansion of regulations targeting freight facilities will impede this progress by discouraging the investment needed to achieve California’s environmental and economic goals.”

The targets of the Plan are to improve freight system efficiency 25% by 2030; deploy over 100,000 zero-emissions vehicles/equipment and maximize near-zero by 2020; and foster future economic growth within the freight and goods movement industry.

Yes, Voltaire, men argue, as they have about this issue. And, regulators have charted a course where the impacts cannot be fully known.  So, as this Plan is implemented over time and impacts are felt, refinements will likely be needed.  This is certainly not the end game.

Moving forward, we need to remind ourselves of the importance of the goods movement to the economy of California and the nation. On-going strategies needed to implement the Plan should continue to recognize this fact. Our state is the largest gateway for international trade and domestic commerce, with a system that allows freight from around to world to move through the state and beyond.  A system  where freight dependent industries account for over $740 billion in gross domestic product and over 5 million jobs (in 2014). A system where already billions of dollars are being spent by our Ports and freight-related industries to help meet climate change goals.

And, Voltaire, yes, nature most certainly acts. Climate change is upon us. This Plan, among many other actions, seriously recognizes the challenge and provides a roadmap that has promise.  But we know that the devil is in the details.  By ensuring real economic and environmental balance, as decisions are made, we can keep the devil out.