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When people think of big polluters, they’re likely to picture the industrial owners of billowing smokestacks or pipes discharging gook into rivers. But the retail sector is coming under new attention for its environmental impacts, including both the goods it sells and the operations that move those products around.

Environmental historian Johnathan Williams has studied retail chain Target’s growth, its vast network of stores and distribution centers, and the trucks that service it. With a new rule just adopted in California that clamps down on air pollution from long-haul trucks servicing big warehouses – and with similar rumblings in New York state – Williams writes that the environmental impacts of big-box retail have become too big to ignore.

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Jennifer Weeks

Senior Environment + Cities Editor

One of many trucks that move Target goods nationwide. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Large retailers don’t have smokestacks, but they generate a lot of pollution − and states are starting to regulate it

Johnathan Williams, University of Northern Iowa

For decades, big-box retailers have evaded federal regulation of the pollution their operations generate. But a new air emission rule in Southern California could become a model for state controls.

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