Freight trucking in the United States is responsible for carrying 70% of the nation’s overall freight by value. However, the combustion of fossil fuels from freight trucks is responsible for mortality from fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and its precursors, which burden some racial-ethnic groups disproportionately, and climate impacts due to greenhouse gas emissions (e.g., CO2 emissions). Recent literature has evaluated some of these impacts and their distribution. However, no research study has looked at the impacts of freight trucking pollution on racial and ethnic minority groups based on a spatially resolved bottom-up emissions inventory. Using open-source data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, combined with integrated air quality models and data from the United States Census Bureau, this study attempts to provide a clearer picture of the extent to which heavy freight contributes to environmental injustice in the country.

Our findings indicate that the trucking sector is responsible for nearly two-fifths, or $47B (in 2017 U.S. dollars) of all transportation related air pollution damage across the country. Further, we find that counties with a higher proportion of Black and Hispanic residents are also more likely to be net importers of pollution damages from other counties. Altogether, we believe that this work lays the groundwork for a new approach to understand environmental justice in America while providing policy recommendations to clean up legacy pollution under the recently enacted Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Priyank Lathwal is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Belfer Center in the Environment and Natural Resources Program and the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program. He holds a Ph.D. in Engineering and Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University, where his research focused on decarbonizing freight transportation and was supported by the National Science Foundation. He also completed an M.S. in Management Science & Engineering from Columbia University, where he was an International Fellow at the School of International and Public Affairs. His current research focuses on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from energy use while exploring climate and environmental justice issues, particularly in the United States, China, and India.