100% zero-emissions trucks. How close are we?

Timothy O'Connor

While the delivery trucks and tractor trailers that distribute goods and cargo make up only about 4% of vehicles on U.S. roads, they are responsible for nearly half of the nitrogen oxide emissions and nearly 60 percent of the fine particulates from all vehicles, and about 7% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

This pollution causes serious harm to our climate and health — from asthma and other respiratory conditions, to premature deaths — that often hit disadvantaged communities hardest because of their proximity to major freight hubs, such as distribution centers and port facilities.

While these numbers are projected to rise over 25% by 2030, thankfully, evidence is mounting that the transition away from diesel is already underway.

Signs of a transition to zero emission

  • First, e-truck and bus options are becoming more readily available, with charging infrastructure coming along for the ride. At the same time, utilities and companies in the epicenters of deployment are starting to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into infrastructure.
  • Second, in addition to investments by new market entrants like Proterra, Rivian and Tesla, traditional truck and bus manufacturers are accelerating investments in zero-emission technology. They’re pouring billions into manufacturing facilities at companies like Daimler, Navistar and Volvo, and corporate acquisitions at Cummins and GM, to name a few.
  • Third, fleets are starting to embrace e-buses and trucks, with major public transit agencies across the U.S. making significant investments and a wide array of Fortune 500 companies making commitments to transition some of their trucks to zero-emission alternatives.
  • Fourth, there are an array of local and state policies that have recently been developed or are in the works that support a robust rollout of zero-emission trucks and buses, including a 15-state compact to develop zero-emission truck action plans that cover nearly one-third of the total U.S. market.

While there is a lot of important momentum for public policy and corporate action, the data and recent climate events show it’s not nearly enough.

Join us at Climate Week to discuss our low-carbon future

Why we must transition away from diesel

Whether it’s the recent 121 degree temperature spike in Los Angeles, the historic fires burning up and down the West Coast or a record breaking hurricane season, indicators of catastrophic climate change are here — and time is running out to stop it.

Additionally, EDF along with other institutions has conducted air pollution research in Oakland, Houston and London that demonstrates how trucks can degrade local air quality, even block-to-block depending on the location of individual sources of pollution. For example, EDF’s air quality monitoring in Houston's Fifth Ward, where 90% of the residents identify as non-white and 40% live below the federal poverty line, revealed that a cluster of metal recyclers and concrete processing plants — magnets for diesel-fueled trucks — are contributing to NO2 levels 48% higher than the rest of the city.

For communities living in and around heavy pollution sources like these, the transition away from diesel pollution isn’t a 10-year issue. It’s literally a life and death matter today. Quickly transitioning to a zero-emission future is both a local and a global imperative.

How we can transform the market faster

That’s why we're working toward policies and actions that result in a much faster market transformation than what current industry projections show. By 2030, at least 30% of all new trucks and buses sold in the U.S. can, and must, be zero emission. This will position the nation to nearly completely transition new vehicle sales away from diesel by 2040, resulting in about 190 million tons of avoided greenhouse gas emissions per year in 2040, and 580 million tons of avoided GHGs by 2050 as the broader fleet turns over and global scaling continues.

Making this happen will require strong national, state and local public policy — and significant commitment to zero-emission trucks by fleet owners and manufacturers. Fostering awareness of the harm of diesel pollution among company executives, policymakers and community leaders is also key to getting clean trucks on the road.

To learn more about how new initiatives will enable electrification and efficiency in the transportation sector, join us next Monday, September 21, 2020, for a dynamic panel discussion during Climate Week featuring speakers from EDF and leading representatives from Air Alliance Houston, Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM) and Ryder.

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