At nearly 30,000 square miles, with a population of nearly five million and a 2019 GDP of just under $200 billion, Southern California’s Inland Empire is not the boondocks region many people in LA think it is. The last few years have seen global online giant Amazon set its sights on Southern California, with the Inland Empire getting most of the company’s regional hubs. While bringing jobs and boosting local economies, economic success has come at a cost.
As the Guardian reports, Amazon has helped make the region’s air quality, already the worst in the nation, worse.
The Inland Empire (locally, we refer to it as the I.E.) 50 to 70 years ago used to be one of the nation’s premier citrus growing regions. Every city and small town grew acres of oranges and lemons. There were even brands specific to certain cities. My hometown of Ontario for instance was known for growing and selling Washington navel oranges under the Highway brand. But as the years went on and the global supply chain became a thing, those lush valleys of citrus groves gave way to millions of square feet of warehouses along with streets and freeways to carry those goods.
Nearly every city in the region now has a warehouse, from small buildings of 8,000 to 10,000 square feet in office parks to sprawling warehouses that have hundreds of thousands of square feet of space and are nearly a mile long. Surface streets and local freeways are clogged with thousands of trucks churning out atmosphere destroying emissions. And Amazon has made things worse.
First, one may wonder why Amazon (and other companies) is attracted to the I.E. in the first place. The region’s combination of access to the LA and Long Beach ports, transportation network access and the number of airports that can handle commercial cargo all combine to make things ideal for shipping and moving cargo. Amazon arrived here in 2012 with its first fulfillment center in San Bernardino. There are now over 30 Amazon centers employing more than 30,000 people. Ten of those were built in the last two to three years. Many of the facilities are less than 35 miles from one another and are in suburban areas. When I say suburban, I literally mean across the street from single-family homes.
The Peoples Collective For Environmental Justice compiled a report that found that pollution from trucks leaving Amazon warehouses directly correlates to the region’s bad air quality. With Amazon shipping constantly increasing, air pollutants have increased as well, and this disproportionately affects people of color. The most damning data from the report: 640 schools being within 0.5 miles of a warehouse and the irony that Amazon’s warehouses here are in areas that generally don’t do a lot of online shopping. From the report:
“Amazon touts being strong on climate, but actions demonstrate that they are in fact doing the opposite by continuing to build warehouses near communities of color without considering existing cumulative impacts.”
With over 30 Amazon facilities in the whole region, some cities have more than one. My city has five; three are on the same street. And somehow Amazon is able to fly its Prime Air cargo planes out of the local Air Force base.
What can be done about this? The South Coast Air Quality Management District has proposed new warehouse emissions rules that would be among some of the first in the country. Called the Warehouse Indirect Source Rule, it would require warehouses to reduce or stop harmful emissions or pay a fee until the problems are corrected. Whatever is being proposed needs to be enacted fast. With the whole region recently being declared as the smoggiest in the country, something has to be done. Some cities seem to be in the pockets of not only Amazon but also warehouse developers. Combine all of this with wildfire seasons that start earlier and seem to get worse each year and the result will be that thousands of people will have adverse health effects or die unless something is done.