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Coming Soon! A Warehouse Near You

Changes Following on the Heels of Zero-Emission Logistics

June 11, 2024 / By Daniel Flaming, Anthony W. Orlando, Fernando Gaytan, Juan De Lara and Sophie Pennetier
Underwriter: Economic Roundtable

Diesel exhaust is bad for people’s health. It degrades neighborhoods near warehouses and accelerates global warming. Conventional diesel trucks are free riders on the air we share. Diesel fuel provides only 6.5 percent of their propulsive power. The rest comes from the air, which provides 14.5 times more combustion fuel than the petroleum in their tanks.

The California Air Resources Board and South Coast Air Quality Management District have issued rules that will help catalyze a rapid transition to clean truck propulsion technology. Since the beginning of 2024, CARB has required all new drayage trucks entering seaports and intermodal railyards have zero emissions. The AQMD has made warehouses accountable for emissions from trucks delivering cargo to and from warehouses.

The ripple effects from these clean-air initiatives are altering land use, road use, electricity infrastructure, jobs, and community health. If we see these changes coming and intelligently nudge them in the right direction, rather than letting things take their own course, the ripple effects can build environmental justice and environmentally safe communities and livelihoods.

High-income communities are the biggest consumers of imported consumer goods made by low-wage foreign workers. The harmful side effects on public health from the diesel trucks that move the goods fall disproportionately on disadvantaged communities near warehouses. There is fundamental environmental and economic inequity between the neighborhoods that do the heavy lifting of the logistics system and the neighborhoods that consume the goods.

Warehouse Sites

The current shorter range of electric heavy trucks is projected to shift some warehouse operations closer to urbanized areas to preserve logistics profits. The current routes that move consumer goods 60 miles to low-cost warehouses in San Bernardino County, then drive the same goods another 60 miles in the opposite direction to homes in Pacific Palisades, San Marino and Newport Beach, or other logistics destinations, will be less profitable.

Warehouses have a history of relocating to keep costs down and accommodate the changing needs of urban economies. Throughout the twentieth century, for instance, many warehouses near city centers were abandoned as metropolitan areas sprawled outward and distribution destinations shifted to the suburbs and exurbs.

Warehouse developers overbuilt during the pandemic boom. There are 30 million square feet of completely vacant warehouse space in the Inland Empire. Fifty-five percent of the vacancies are in newer warehouses – built since 2010.

Adaptive Reuse

Warehouses are overrepresented in disadvantaged communities throughout California. In a society where affordable housing is already in short supply, warehouses often expand without restriction and in some cases they even cause the demolition of affordable housing. California needs better warehouse designs that benefit the surrounding communities more and are capable of easily evolving to other uses as logistics demand shifts.

The 30 million square feet of vacant warehouses in the Inland Empire represent over 556 million pounds of carbon dioxide that has accelerated global warming. New adaptive uses for unneeded warehouses will prevent the environmental cost of building these warehouses from going to waste.

The severe shortage of homes means that the biggest demand is for housing. Some older warehouses have already been converted into lofts. The middle of roofs over newer hulking empty warehouses could be cut away to create large open-air courtyards surrounded by homes, with the remaining roof covered in solar panels.

There is a shortage of living-wage jobs in the Inland Empire. The median annual wage for warehouse workers in these counties is only $28,900 a year. Furthermore, warehouses provide only one job for every 9,148 square feet of built space. In contrast, if warehouses are adapted for durable manufacturing industries such as medal fabrication, there will be one job for 758 square feet of space. Metal fabrication workers earn an average of $66,924 a year.

Communities can insist on a more balanced use of space and land. Warehouses and delivery centers can be designed to be converted to affordable housing or high-value manufacturing once their useful life is over.

New Warehouses

The continuing growth of e-commerce is making efficient last-mile deliveries and proximity to affluent hilly and coastal neighborhoods in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, where deliveries are concentrated, more important. Proximity is projected to result in higher land costs that will be partially offset by shorter truck trips. Automated systems like conveyor belts, robotic picking arms and robotic forklifts are projected to make new warehouses reliant on fewer workers.

Trucking Companies

Electric truck dealers and fleet operators have identified delays in obtaining electric power for charging stations as the most serious obstacle for deploying electric trucks. There is a mismatch between the multi-year timeline that is typical for upgrading the utility infrastructure and the rapid deployment of electric trucks required by the California Air Resources Board. Fleet operators report being told by utilities that it will take two years to obtain electric power for their charging stations.

Diesel trucks typically remain in operation for 12 years and then are replaced. However, this life cycle may be extended by trucking companies that are reluctant to adopt a new technology. This reluctance and extended years of operation for older diesel trucks may become a necessity if electric power for recharging battery-powered trucks is not available for trucking companies.

Electric Infrastructure

The locations where there will be demand for electrical power to charge trucks are already known based on where truck companies and large warehouses are located. Charging stations will be needed at all of these sites, and both trucking companies and warehouses are clustered in specific areas.

Southern California Edison, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and other municipal utility districts must become proactive in identifying the system requirements for providing power for electric trucks and move expeditiously to build the necessary distribution infrastructure in advance of the oncoming wave of commercial applications for electrical service upgrades.

Generating Local Clean Electricity

A typical warehouse roof provides a good landscape for operating a solar power system. Not only does it have ample square footage to support a large array of solar panels, but it is also high enough off the ground that shade usually is not a problem. Further, most warehouse roofs are well pitched for catching the sun’s rays throughout the day. Green electricity generation can both reduce warehouse emissions and support decentralized micro grids that increase community energy resilience.


Warehouses employ eight percent of Inland Empire workers, a share that is eight times greater than the average for California. This over-dependence on a low-wage industry with heavy, uncompensated impacts on the road system and the environment is the result of a pattern and practice of government land use regulation that disproportionately burdens communities of color. Low-wage workers who become involuntary part-time workers or lose their jobs will pay yet another price for these discriminatory policies.

Jobs lost in warehouses are projected to be offset by jobs created by electrification. One job is created for every $111,512 spent on the electrical infrastructure required to recharge electric trucks and transmit electricity generated by solar panels. Electrical construction jobs are growing and have strong multiplier impacts in the supplier chain as well as the consumer sector. Every ten jobs in electrical construction create seven additional jobs in other industries.

The above average growth rate in electrical industries in the Inland Empire is evidence that despite the projected loss of warehouse jobs, there are offsetting benefits from electrification.

Warehouse workers who want jobs in electrical construction will need to have strong mathematical abilities, knowledge about building construction, mechanical systems, and technical plans, and manual skills for tasks such as threading wire through conduit and installing electrical components.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union has apprenticeship programs for training workers who want to become electricians and join the union. The minimum requirements include having a high school education with one year of algebra, achieving a qualifying score on the aptitude test and being drug free.

Tariffs on Chinese Imports

The United States is attempting to revive and protect manufacturing jobs and businesses by eliminating the “the People’s Republic of China’s unfair technology transfer-related policies and practices that continue to burden U.S. commerce and harm American workers and businesses.”

The higher cost to buy these products from Chinese manufacturers is projected to reduce the volume of imports. Products made in China currently account for almost half of the cargo that comes into the San Pedro Bay Ports. Shrinking the flow of these imports is projected to have cascading impacts on the logistics system. Less cargo to move is projected to result in less employment for longshore workers, truck drivers and warehouse workers.

Improved Health in Neighborhoods near Trucking Corridors and Warehouses

There are 365,000 apartment buildings and houses located within 2,000 feet of a large warehouse in the Los Angeles region. Working-poor Latinx families make up a disproportionate share of these residents. Because of diesel truck emissions, they make more frequent visits to emergency rooms, have higher rates of asthma and heart disease, and even more premature deaths than other residents in the region.

Carbon Pricing

Holding warehouses and trucking companies accountable for reducing and ending the environmental and human costs of diesel emissions could be part of a solution to the climate crisis. This would mean that carbon taxes to offset the adverse impacts of fossil fuels would be collected from fuel suppliers. The cost for products and services would include the environmental and public costs of the carbon energy they use.

This could mean fewer trucks are on the road, less traffic congestion, and fewer purchases of plastic items that last days in the home and centuries in landfills.

Environmental Preservation

Warehouses in the Inland Empire are typically built on greenfield sites, that is, open land that is home to native plant and animal species. The environmental impact reports for building warehouses on these sites have documented the environmental degradation that will occur but asserted that the new warehouse jobs are an over-riding benefit that justifies the environmental harm. Warehouse jobs have also been cited as the overriding benefit that justifies locating warehouses close to developed areas and displacing residents from affordable housing.

News Coverage

EV Transition Ripple Effects Call For Just, Careful Planning
By Paul Rosenberg, Random Lengths (June 27, 2024)

Area of Work: Ecology, Economy, People
Tags: Affordable Housing, Congestion, Cost Avoidance, Criteria Emissions, Diesel Trucks, Drayage Trucking, Earnings, Electric Charging Stations, Electric Infrastructure, Electric Trucks, Emissions, Food Stamps, Greenhouse Gas, Health Impacts, Heavy Duty Trucks, Inland Empire, Inland Valley Development Agency, low wages, Medi-Cal, Noise, Pollution, Poverty, Public Costs, Respiratory Distress, Road Wear, San Bernardino International Airport, Social Safety Net, Structural Inequity, Traffic, Truck Drivers, Warehouse Workers, Working Poverty, zero emissions