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California challenges San Bernardino air cargo facility used by Amazon

Citing emissions, AG asks federal court to reconsider decision that allowed project to be built

Amazon is running a large air cargo and warehousing operation at San Bernardino airport. (Photo: San Bernardino International Airport)

The state of California on Monday petitioned a federal appeals court to rehear its lawsuit challenging a new air cargo facility at San Bernardino International Airport that is home to a major package hub in Amazon’s air network. Attorney General Rob Bonta said the original decision conflicts with existing environmental law and puts the local community at risk from harmful diesel truck and jet emissions.

The Federal Aviation Administration approved the $200 million Eastgate Air Cargo Logistics Center in 2019, over the objection of California and community groups, and in the summer of 2020 a divided panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit allowed the project to move forward. The attorney general’s office argues the FAA conducted a cursory environmental analysis and understated air pollution impacts from increased truck traffic.

The cargo center includes a 658,500-square-foot warehouse plus ground support buildings and parking spots for 14 all-cargo aircraft. 

Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) began operating the aircraft ramp and sortation center last April. Online shipments arriving by truck and air are grouped and redistributed by outbound aircraft. State officials say dozens of additional flights and hundreds of truck trips will be generated every day by the middle of the decade, along with at least 1 ton of toxic air pollutants. Amazon currently operates about nine flights per day, according to the airport.

San Bernardino, located about 60 miles east of the Interstate 5 corridor in Los Angeles, is in the heart of the sprawling warehouse region known as the Inland Empire.

Public health advocates and the state say particulate matter and harmful gases in industrial areas disproportionately impact low-income communities and communities of color. 

The original lawsuit filed by former Attorney General Xavier Becerra, now secretary of Health and Human Services in the Biden administration, sought to halt construction of the privately financed air cargo terminal until the FAA completed a comprehensive environmental impact statement that fully accounts for the harm to local communities.

“It doesn’t matter who you are or how much money you have. You can’t cut corners when the health and well-being of our communities is at stake,” said Attorney General Bonta in a news release. “As the People’s Attorney, I’m committed to lifting up the voices of communities who live at the intersection of poverty and pollution. The fact is: communities like the one impacted by this project in San Bernardino are all too often overburdened and under-resourced. These communities, who are already experiencing health harms from pollution, deserve to be protected to the fullest extent of the law, and through our Bureau of Environmental Justice, we’re committed to seeing this fight through.”

According to the California Air Resources Board, residents of San Bernardino are among the top 5% of Californians for the prevalence of asthma-related hospital visits, and among the top 3% for emergency room visits due to heart attacks. 

Petitions from the attorney general and advocacy group Earth Justice argue the court’s decision should be reconsidered for several reasons. It said the creation of a new burden of proof for petitioners to challenge FAA decisions under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is inconsistent with 9th Circuit precedent, which holds that the burden of identifying and analyzing environmental impacts rests with the agency. The panel also allowed the FAA to base the project’s approval on a flawed environmental analysis of uncertain impacts in contravention of 9th Circuit and Supreme Court precedents. The petition finally asserts that the case is of exceptional importance because of the number of people affected and worth the court’s time, especially since the FAA’s lack of data transparency prevented the state and the public from documenting harmful impacts from the Eastgate project. 

The panel that decided the case “erroneously allowed the FAA to rest its approval of the project on the incomplete and inaccurate analysis in the environmental assessment,” the California Department of Justice said in the petition.

If the court agrees to rehear the case, 11 judges will be selected to participate. The initial panel had three judges.

FedEx (NYSE: FDX) and UPS (NYSE: UPS) are also tenants at the San Bernardino airport. 

Click here for more American Shipper/FreightWaves stories by Eric Kulisch.


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  1. Your Mom

    Do you know what would absolutely be a negative affect on these low-income neighborhoods? Taking away the potential employment and income this will provide. The fight against this is really a class war and attempt to keep low income and non-degreed folks of the IE down, and to drive more folks to student loans under the guise that that would be the only path out of poverty. Total BS

  2. Ted Wright

    I’ve lived under Norton AFB now SBIA my entire life and during its peak of sending stuff to Viet Nam. C141’s over my house 24/7 for years and have suffered no ill affects. This is just more loony left sewage. They want their Amazon stuff but they want the ability and the folks who handle it somewhere else. Here’s an idea drive your toaster to Kingman AZ and get it yourself. See how that works out for ya.

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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals and a Silver Medal from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government and trade coverage, and news analysis. He was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He won Environmental Journalist of the Year from the Seahorse Freight Association in 2014 and was the group's 2013 Supply Chain Journalist of the Year. In December 2022, he was voted runner up for Air Cargo Journalist by the Seahorse Freight Association. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]