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Opinion: A state mandate for zero-emission trucks is a matter of environmental justice

Transportation is the top source of Colorado’s air pollution, and minority communities are disproportionately impacted

My community is tired of waiting for environmental justice.

Jeremiah Ntepp

Too many members of my community have lived their entire lives in and around toxic air pollution. Too many times we have been told by this politician or that politician that they’ll clean up our neighborhood, or the air we breathe.

I’m tired of waiting for my community to be heard and I’m ready to fight for environmental justice with other partners who are fed up as well.

I represent the Denver Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The NAACP is the nation’s oldest, largest and most widely recognized grassroots-based civil rights organization, and the Denver Chapter has been working to fight racism in all its forms since 1915.

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Recently, the NAACP joined with Green Latinos, Womxn from the Mountain, Colorado Working Families First and Mi Familia Vota to specifically fight for a new set of clean-truck rules to reduce the harmful pollution trucks and vans and buses spew into our air. It is time Colorado eliminates environmental degradation and barriers harming disproportionately impacted communities and it starts with establishing this new clean-trucks rule.

We’ve come together to urge Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission to adopt a new set of rules that will require truck manufacturers to sell a certain percentage of zero-emission large trucks (think long-haul trucks, delivery vans and other vehicles) starting in 2024 and increasing every year. The proposed rule also will require that trucks, vans and buses that still run on fossil fuels burn cleaner and emit fewer pollutants such as nitrogen oxides.

Why is this important?  Rates of premature death, childhood asthma and other respiratory diseases and heart conditions are higher among Black people. Because of past housing discrimination like red-lining policies, more Black, Brown and Indiginous people live near busy highways, shipping warehouses and railyards. That means more truck traffic, more pollution, and more health challenges.

Colorado is working toward adopting new policies to significantly reduce the amount of greenhouse-gas emissions produced by nearly every industry in the state. The electric sector is switching to clean renewable energy that will eventually close dirty coal and gas plants that have caused untold damages to the health and wellbeing for primarily non-white residents who are living and working in what have now become some of Colorado’s most polluted ZIP codes.

With the electric sector slowly becoming less toxic, the transportation sector is now the largest emitter of greenhouse-gas pollution — toxins that speed up climate change, destroy our air quality and make us less healthy. It’s time to address pollution from that sector in a way that benefits all of us, not just the people that can afford a new low-emission or electric vehicle.

A solution to this pollution exists and it is necessary to move forward, without delay, to adopt these clean-truck rules.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

For those of us that weren’t around in the 1980s to see the Denver Brown Cloud during that era, it has come back and unfortunately hangs around for most of the year. Every year, Denver and communities across Colorado’s Front Range and West Slope set too many records for poor air quality.

More people have moved to the Front Range, bringing with them more cars and creating more smog, and this problem must be addressed to clean our air and help fight climate change. By requiring additional cuts from these harmful sources, communities across Colorado actually will be able to see, and breathe, the benefits.

This rulemaking process should move forward with stakeholder engagement that includes disproportionately impacted communities and reflects what we are asking for. We’re asking to not be forgotten any longer, for the Air Quality Control Commission to step up to clean the air for all of us and help meet Colorado’s greenhouse-gas reduction goals.


Jeremiah Ntepp, of Denver, is environmental justice policy advisor & community advocate for the NAACP’s Denver chapter.


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We believe vital information needs to be seen by the people impacted, whether it’s a public health crisis, investigative reporting or keeping lawmakers accountable. This reporting depends on support from readers like you.