Climate 411

Leadership: The auto industry’s missing ingredient

The automotive industry’s capacity for innovation and marketing are on full display this month. Between the Consumer Electronic Show and the North American International Auto Show, every day brings a new story about the rapid development of vehicle technology. The industry possesses the know-how and ability to deliver on the zero-emissions future if it wants to.

A Ford at an electric car charging station in Buffalo, NY. Photo by Fortunate4now

Behind the headlines of engineering feats and product plans, though, is a disturbing fact. The industry is undermining its own innovation. It’s doing this through a campaign to dramatically weaken the central tool we have to move cleaner technology into the fleet – protective greenhouse gas reduction and fuel efficiency standards for new cars and passenger trucks.

Well-designed federal standards foster the deployment of fuel saving solutions. With the certainty of long-term standards in place, manufacturers are able to make the necessary investments to scale these solutions into the fleet. Scaled production further drives down costs, enhancing automaker profitability and consumer payback.

This cycle has been in full view over the past several years as automakers have brought to market ever more efficient vehicles with record sales and strong profitability. An exhaustive technical analysis completed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and California Air Resources Board found that automakers were well positioned to deliver even more fuel efficiency and emissions progress in the years ahead.

With this robust technical underpinning, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a determination to maintain the existing 2022 to 2025 standards. Back in 2012, EPA finalized these standards with the broad support of the automotive industry. But fast forward to today, and the automotive industry is pushing for the Trump Administration to reconsider this determination.

This has set up a year of incongruity where the industry’s position that the standards need to be re-examined are consistently contradicted by its product announcements. In just this past year, automakers have made the following announcements:

  • Daimler AG announced a billion dollar investment to build electric vehicles in the U.S. with production starting in the early 2020’s.
  • BMW reached 100,000 in global electric vehicle sales while promising a dozen models of electric vehicles by 2025.
  • Toyota committed to having at least 10 models of all-electric vehicles by the early 2020’s.
  • Mazda promoted an engine breakthrough that could improve efficiency by up to 30 percent, and is planning to deploy the new engine in 2019.
  • GM laid out a bold vision for a “zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion” future, announced plans for 20 new electric vehicles by 2023 – including two by 2019, and rolled out the acclaimed Chevy Bolt across the U.S.
  • Ford publicized its intention to have an electric vehicle with a range of 300 miles on the market by 2020.

These are not public announcements most automakers make lightly. They make them with high confidence in their ability to meet them.

As amazing as these announcements are, none of them are even necessary to meet the vehicle greenhouse gas standards that EPA finalized in 2012 and affirmed last year. The industry is already poised to meet these standards with broader adoption of more conventional technologies.

The impressive innovation in advanced engine design and electrification – which the industry clearly believes will start to scale over the next few years – will make the standards even more attainable.

Yet, despite the remarkable recent record of innovation and the significant investments made in developing a new generation of clean vehicle solutions, the automotive industry – through its trade associations – has chosen a path to weaken our existing emissions standards and has stayed silent as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has threatened California’s own protective vehicle emission standards.

The industry’s actions are contradictory and concerning. Yet, there is still time for automakers to choose a different path – one that looks to the future and seeks to build a new round of protective standards that rewards the industry’s innovation, lowers costs for families and protects human health and the environment.

As the announcements are made over the coming days, we should also be listening to hear if any automakers are willing to match their record on innovation with what the industry most needs now – leadership.

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy / Leave a comment

Natural disasters are no longer purely natural

You may have heard the alarming news that weather and climate disasters in the U.S. killed 362 people in 2017 and caused a record $306 billion in damages.

But also alarming is the fact that many news outlets are still referring to these events as “natural disasters.”

Southeast Texas after Hurricane Harvey – a not-purely-natural disaster. Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

With recent advances in science, researchers have found that human-caused climate change plays a major role in making certain events occur and/or making them worse. That means that many “natural disasters” are no longer purely “natural.”

Here is a look at some not-so-natural disasters:

  • Hurricane Harvey 2017: human-caused climate change made record rainfall over Houston around three times more likely and 15 percent more intense
  • European Extreme Heat 2017: human-caused climate change made intensity and frequency of such extreme heat at least 10 times as likely in Portugal and Spain
  • Australian Extreme Heat 2017: maximum summer temperatures like those seen during 2016-2017 are now at least 10 times more likely with human-caused climate change
  • Louisiana Downpours 2016: human-caused climate change made events like this 40 percent more likely and increased rainfall intensity by around 10 percent
  • European Rainstorms 2016: human-caused climate change made probability of three-day extreme rainfall this season at least 40 percent more likely in France
  • UK Storm Desmond 2015: human-caused climate change made extreme regional rainfall roughly 60 percent more likely
  • Argentinian Heat Wave 2013/2014: human-caused climate change made the event around five times more likely

By employing the term “natural disasters,” news outlets and others are inadvertently implying that all of these events are just misfortunate incidences – rather than consequences of our actions.

This seemingly innocuous phrase supports the idea that dangerous weather is out of our control.

But, we do have some control over their frequency and intensity, and that control is through our emissions of heat-trapping gases.

We need to act on climate, and we need to do it now. Pointing out that we worsen and may even cause these weather disasters may help convince people to do what needs to be done.

Posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, News, Science, Setting the Facts Straight / 1 Response

A look back at 2017: The year in weather disasters – and the connection to climate change

Port Arthur, Texas after Hurricane Harvey. Photo: SC-HART

From hurricanes to heat waves, 2017 produced countless headlines concerning extreme weather and the devastation left in its wake.

We tend to think of extreme weather as an unpredictable, external source of destruction. When faced with catastrophes, we don’t always recognize the role we play in intensifying their impacts.

But as human-induced climate change continues to progress, extreme weather is becoming more frequent and dangerous. Without immediate greenhouse gas mitigation efforts, last year’s unprecedented disasters may soon become the norm.

Here’s a look back at the worst weather of 2017 and how these events may have been affected by climate change (and scroll down to see a timeline of the year’s worst weather).

JANUARY

  1. Massive flooding drowns California – Intense rains in January provided a much needed respite from California’s longstanding drought, but quickly tipped from satiating to inundating. Within the first 11 days of the year, California received 25 percent of the state’s average annual rainfall. Flooding and mudslides forced more than 200,000 people to evacuate their homes and caused an estimated $1.5 billion in property and infrastructure damages.

    The rapid shift from drought to flooding may be a marker of climate change. As temperatures warm, precipitation falling as rain rather than snow and expedited snow melt lead to the earlier filling of reservoirs. Such a shift increases the likelihood of both summer droughts and winter flooding, with the latter intensified by a warming atmosphere that holds more moisture and deposits greater precipitation in heavy rainfall events.

  2. Heat wave sizzles in Australia – High heat persisting overnight in the New South Wales and Southern Queensland regions of Australia induced a series of devastating heat waves throughout January and February. Following a record-setting month in which the city reached its highest ever overnight minimum temperature for December, Sydney experienced the hottest night in January since weather records began in the mid-1800s.

    Analysis has shown that these extreme summer temperatures are 10 times as likely due to the influence of climate change. With rising global temperatures, heat waves are expected to become more intense, frequent, and longer lasting. Australia was just one of many regions to experience these developing changes in 2017.

  3. Extreme heat melts the North Pole – Recent history of escalating temperatures in the Arctic could not dull the shock when temperatures near the North Pole reached more than 50 degrees Fahrenheit above regional averages this winter. The heat wave associated with this spike is not only dramatic in intensity, but frequency – heat this extreme usually occurs about once each decade, yet this event was the third recorded in just over a month.

    There exists an essential feedback between sea ice melt and Arctic warming – the more we warm, the more ice melts, lowering the region’s reflectivity of sunlight and increasing warming intensity. While these processes are usually gradual, weather variability can kick dramatic warming events into high gear. The winter heat waves experienced in the Arctic provide examples of such a combination, which may occur every few years should we reach a 2 degree Celsius global temperature rise.

FEBRUARY

  1. Drought brings risk of famine to Somalia – At a time when a staggering 6.2 million people – half of Somalia’s population – required urgent humanitarian aid, the World Health Organization released an official warning that Somalia was on the verge of famine. Such categorization would clock in as Somalia’s third famine in 25 years, the most recent of which led to the death of 260,000 people.

    After years of scarce rainfall, the nation continues to face widespread food insecurity, reduced access to clean water, and increased risk for drought-related illness. Analysis of both observational and modeling data suggests that only a small increase in the nation’s dry extremes can be attributed to climate change. However, as dry regions become progressively drier in a warming climate, similar national disasters may become increasingly common.

JUNE

  1. Extreme heat blisters the Southwestern United States – In June, an intense heat wave blazed across the Southwestern U.S. and left record high temperatures in its trail. Daily records included 127 degrees Fahrenheit in Death Valley. All-time records were reached in Las Vegas, Nevada and Needles, California at 117 degrees Fahrenheit and 125 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively. High heat triggered public health concerns and led to power outages in the California Central Valley, the buckling of highways in West Sacramento, and the cancelation of 50 flights out of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport for American Airlines alone.

    While high temperatures are typical of the low-humidity pre-monsoon season in the Southwest, the unprecedented magnitude of these numbers and the shift towards an earlier extreme heat season may be a signal of the changing climate.

Greenland's wildfires, as seen from space. Photo: NASA

JULY

  1. Once-icy Greenland engulfed in flames – In historically icy Greenland, wildfires have typically been of minimal concern. As a result, when the largest wildfire in the country’s history broke out at the end of July, there existed virtually no framework to assess the event’s health and infrastructure risk.

    As global temperatures rise and Greenland’s ice melts, the once barren landscape can fill with vegetation and expand the likelihood of forest fire outbreak. Climate change simultaneously lengthens and intensifies drought in the region, while increasing the likelihood of thunderstorms (a major catalyst of wildfires). Wildfires in turn intensify regional warming, as the fires’ soot deposits black carbon on the pristine snow cover, reducing the region’s reflectivity and accelerating ice sheet melt.

  2. “Lucifer” plagues Europe – Europe’s most sustained extreme heat event since the deadly 2003 heatwave (in which climate change was responsible for half of the 1050 recorded deaths) brought temperatures so reminiscent of the Inferno that locals named the event “Lucifer.” As temperatures throughout the region surpassed 104 degrees Fahrenheit, two deaths were recorded and a 15 percent increase in hospital emergency emissions was observed in Italy. The heatwave also caused pollution levels to soar and spurred wildfires throughout Portugal, just a few months after fires in Pedrógão Grande killed 60 and injured more than 250.

    Research concerning previous extreme heat in Europe has shown that climate change renders the maximum summer temperatures observed in regions such as Spain 500 times more likely than in the pre-industrial era. As global temperatures continue to rise, extreme heat will only become more familiar.

  3. Southeast Asia inundated by widespread floods – More than 41 million people were affected by massive floods and landslides that rippled through nations including Bangladesh, India, and Nepal. Losses experienced by the region included more than 1,300 lives and the displacement of 600,000. Two simultaneous pressures – the push for urbanization and neglect towards developing sustainable draining systems – renders the region highly vulnerable to these natural disasters.

    The link between the Southeast Asian monsoon season and climate change is complex, dependent upon a variety of entwined weather systems and intricate regional topography. More study is necessary to predict the influence of a changing climate on this monsoon system in order to prepare the region for impact and increase communities’ resilience.

Puerto Rico after Hurricane Irma. Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

AUGUST

  1. Atlantic hurricane season leaves devastation in its wake – Deadly storms Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Ophelia dominated the news in August, killing more than 150 people and causing more than $300 billion in damages in just the United States.

    As the atmosphere holds seven percent more moisture with each one degree Celsius temperature rise, individual tropical storms can now deposit more rainfall. Recent studies have estimated that climate change rendered Harvey’s extreme rainfall three times more likely and 15 percent more intense. 27 trillion gallons of rain fell over Texas and Louisiana from Hurricane Harvey alone, setting the record for the highest tropical cyclone rainfall in the continental US. Sea level rise of 10 to 12 inches in cities such as Miami dramatically increased the destruction caused by the storm surges associated with Hurricane Irma, which were as high as 10 feet. Warming waters driving hurricane development and strength ushered in Hurricane Maria – Puerto Rico’s strongest storm in 85 years – and Hurricane Ophelia, which set records for the farthest east a major hurricane has traveled in the Atlantic and the worst storm in history to make landfall in Ireland.

OCTOBER

  1. Western United States’ forests set ablaze – Wildfires devastated Northern California this October, with more than 245,000 acres burned and 14,000 homes destroyed. Insured losses in the region amounted to more than $3 billion, but danger does not end when the fires are extinguished. The remaining ash and debris (including hazardous waste, electronic waste, and heavy metal contamination) can be spread by wind and rain, posing even further health concerns to those nearby. The increased temperatures and decreased water availability associated with climate change increases the risk of wildfires. Due to recent temperature and dryness extremes in California, even engine heat from parked cars has been cited as the source of major fires.

    The duration of the fire season has also begun to lengthen, as spring and summer temperatures rise and snowmelt begins earlier. California wildfires ignited once again in December outside of Los Angeles, creating even more destruction than those in the north. Covering an area of more than 425 square miles and displacing more than 100,000 people, the Thomas fire ranks as the second largest fire in the state’s history. While dryness and high temperatures triggering the fire’s outbreak are associated with La Niña's current presence in the region, climate change serves to exacerbate both conditions and facilitate the dramatic losses experienced by California residents.

The direct influence of climate change on many of these events suggests that more devastating catastrophes lie ahead. But the future is not written in stone.

Should we recognize the intensification of these extreme weather events, the power to decrease greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and prevent increasingly hostile weather remains in our hands.

Posted in Arctic & Antarctic, Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, Science / Read 2 Responses

Presenting the Pruitt list

Special people, places, polluters, cronies, calendars, chemicals, quotes, numbers, and other mischief that was part of 2017’s assault on environmental safeguards. Or, Who is Arthur A. Elkins, Jr.?

  1. Six: Number of former EPA Administrators (Republicans and Democrats) who have publicly condemned Administrator Scott Pruitt’s efforts to hollow out the EPA.
  2. "Little Tidbits": What Donald Trump promised would be left of the EPA when he’s done with it.  (He actually made this promise in 2016.)
  3. Arthur A. Elkins, Jr.: EPA’s Inspector General.  He’s reviewing Pruitt’s spending on charter planes and travel to Oklahoma, where Pruitt spent 43 of 92 days this spring.
  4. $40,000: Amount spent for Pruitt to travel to Morocco to promote natural gas exports.
  5. Calendar: What Scott Pruitt has filled up with meetings with polluter executives and lobbyists, who often get favorable decisions after seeing him.
  6. “It’s just a mystery as to how you can persuade him to not follow exactly what industry asks him to do.” An EPA employee describing Pruitt at meetings with industry.
  7. 31%: The amount that Scott Pruitt and Donald Trump are trying to cut from the EPA budget—the most of any agency in government.
  8. “Meat Ax”: What former EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus said that Scott Pruitt is swinging at public health and environmental protections.
  9. Superfund Cleanups: Pruitt seeks 30% cuts in EPA Superfund efforts while simultaneously promising to prioritize them.
  10. Indoor Radon Grant Program: Reduces radon in homes, schools and buildings.  Pruitt and Trump are seeking to eliminate it.
  11. EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice: Created to give everyone protections from environmental and health hazards.  Pruitt is seeking to eliminate it.
  12. More than 60: Percent of Americans who would like to see the EPA’s powers preserved or strengthened.
  13. Paranoia: What might cause an EPA Administrator to keep a secret calendar, spend taxpayer money to sweep his offices for surveillance bugs, require employees to have an escort on his floor and not bring cell phones or take notes in his office, and install a $25,000 soundproof communications booth when EPA has one already.
  14. Arthur A. Elkins, Jr.: EPA’s Inspector General.  He’s reviewing Pruitt’s decision to spend more than $25,000 on a soundproof communications booth.
  15. About one-third: Drop in number of EPA enforcement cases against suspected polluters under Pruitt.
  16. 39%: Reduction in civil penalties sought from polluters under Pruitt.
  17. Michael Dourson: Industry “toxicologist-for-hire” forced to withdraw his nomination to run EPA’s Chemical Safety office amid public pressure and bipartisan Congressional opposition.
  18. Albert “Kell” Kelly: Senior Advisor to Pruitt.  Banker and baseball pal of Pruitt with no environmental experience—but barred from the financial industry by the FDIC.
  19. William Wehrum: Assistant Administrator, Office of Air and Radiation.  Sued EPA to tear down clear air and climate protections at least 31 times in the last decade.
  20. Industry insiders who have spent decades fighting to block environmental safeguards and undermine scientific findings: See Leadership, EPA.
  21. EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors: Created to provide independent advice, it’s now being purged to make room for climate deniers and industry-backed figures.
  22. “The evidence is abundant of the dangerous political turn of an agency that is supposed to be guided by science.” Former EPA chief Christie Todd Whitman.
  23. Opposition Research: What Definers Public Affairs, a partisan firm hired by EPA to monitor media, conducted on EPA employees who might be “resistance” figures.
  24. Arthur A. Elkins, Jr.: EPA’s Inspector General.  He’s been asked to investigate the EPA’s no-bid hiring of Definers Public Affairs.
  25. Five: Number of major air safeguards being weakened or eliminated by the EPA: Clean Cars, Oil and gas methane pollution, Mercury and Air Toxics, Smog and Clean Power Plan.
  26. Climate Change: Global rise in temperatures, fueled by uptick in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, that is triggering more extreme climate events.
  27. “Climate Change”: Phrase being purged from EPA’s website.
  28. “Red-Blue Exercise”: Method Pruitt wants to use to attack well-established scientific consensus on climate change.
  29. Benzene: Dangerous carcinogen that leaked through Houston neighborhoods during Hurricane Harvey without EPA acknowledgement at the time or afterwards.
  30. Arthur A. Elkins, Jr.: EPA’s Inspector General.  He’s reviewing EPA’s performance during Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
  31. EPA Office of Public Affairs: Taxpayer-funded unit responsible for forcing reporters to file Freedom of Information Act requests for routine information, accusing them of stealing work from other outlets, and attacking them personally after they reported on Hurricane Harvey environmental threats that the EPA hadn’t yet found.
  32. Tar Creek, Oklahoma: Site of a health disaster where Scott Pruitt, as state attorney general, refused to prosecute or even release the state auditor’s report.
  33. Arthur A. Elkins, Jr.: EPA’s Inspector General.  He’s reviewing Pruitt’s call for a mining group to lobby Trump on the Paris climate treaty, which could violate ethics rules.
  34. “EPA has all the signs of an agency captured by industry.”  Congressman Paul Tonko at Pruitt’s first oversight hearing (a full 293 days after Pruitt took office).
  35. Exodus: (1) Second Book of the Torah and the Bible. (2) Departure of more than 700 EPA employees since the 2016 election and the Pruitt assault on the EPA.
  36. Smog, coal ash, lead, mercury, benzene, and carbon: Dangerous pollutants coming your way as Pruitt rolls back key environmental safeguards.
  37. What we’ll all be at more risk for: Brain damage, leukemia, asthma, lung cancer, heart disease, heart attacks, diabetes, bladder cancer and birth defects.
  38. Washington’s busiest person in 2018: Arthur A. Elkins, Jr., EPA’s Inspector General.

You can find even more in our “EPA’s Terrible 2017” wrap-up report.

Happy Holidays and a Safe and Healthy New Year from Your Friends at EDF!

 

Posted in News / Comments are closed

Public speaks out against Pruitt’s effort to reopen a loophole for super-polluting glider trucks

Public health experts, freight truck manufacturers and truck dealers sent a shared message to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt at a recent public hearing – don’t reopen a loophole for super-polluting glider trucks.

Glider trucks are new freight trucks that have used engines installed in them. Those older engines emit harmful soot and smog-causing pollutants at rates dramatically higher than trucks that comply with current emission standards.

Glider trucks, with their older engines, emit high levels of pollutants like cancer-causing diesel particulate, as well as oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter – which have been linked to severe human health impacts, including increased asthma attacks and exacerbation of heart disease.

Pruitt has proposed reopening a loophole in our national Clean Truck Standards that would allow glider trucks to pollute without restriction. This proposed rollback of common sense pollution limits is a slap in the face – not only to American families, who deserve clean air to breathe, but also to the heavy duty trucking industry, which has invested in cleaner technologies for years.

Freight truck leaders voice concerns about glider truck loophole

Volvo senior vice president Susan Alt testified at the public hearing that Pruitt’s proposal “makes a mockery” of their responsible investments in pollution control equipment and clean technologies.

Representatives from the American Trucking Associations, the Engine Manufacturers Association, and the Heavy Duty Fuel Efficiency Leadership Group echoed concerns that the proposed rollback would undermine their investment decisions for the past decade, upend the level playing field the industry needs for the well-being of their businesses, and jeopardize the regulatory certainty upon which they rely.

Freight truck dealers underscored that they hire and employ skilled technicians — in communities all across the country — to service and maintain modern, cleaner engines. Their businesses, and their employees, will be at risk if the loophole for glider trucks is reopened.

Pruitt issued his proposal based on flawed, incomplete information

EPA estimated in 2016 that glider truck emissions were as much as 40 times higher than modern engines.

The agency recently undertook more emission testing to refine its data. But Pruitt issued his proposal to repeal the glider provisions before EPA’s testing could be completed.

Instead, Pruitt’s proposal highlights poorly supported assertions from Tennessee Tech University, which conducted testing on glider trucks that found much lower emissions of oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter than EPA’s estimates.

Last week, EPA released its new, updated testing data, as well as a memo with further details about the Tennessee Tech findings that show flaws in the university’s analysis. This new information confirms the serious threat to human health posed by glider trucks.

EPA’s new test data suggests that the estimates it relied on before closing the glider truck in the first place may have been too conservative:

Under highway cruise conditions, [oxides of nitrogen] emissions from the glider vehicles were approximately 43 times as high, and [particulate matter] emissions were approximately 55 times as high as the conventionally manufactured tractors. (emphasis added)

EPA identified a number of deeply troubling flaws and biases in Tennessee Tech’s methodology, facilities, and equipment used to generate their data. Most notably, Tennessee Tech’s assertions that the tested glider trucks met EPA’s 2010 emission standard for particulate matter and performed equally as well as modern trucks were not based on any actual measurement of the pollutant – just visible inspection, a practice abandoned decades ago as wholly inadequate for measuring particulate matter from diesel engines.

Equally alarming, as the Washington Post has reported, the EPA memo acknowledges that Tennessee Tech has a financial relationship with a major glider manufacturer – Fitzgerald Glider Kits – that is pushing for EPA to roll back the pollution protections for its product. The testing facility used by Tennessee Tech is owned by Fitzgerald.

Pruitt puts clean air at risk

These documents reinforce what has been clear since Pruitt took office – the Administrator is ignoring his agency’s own science and expertise, and putting the health of American families at risk, with an onslaught of attacks against vital pollution protections – attacks that are endorsed by politically connected major polluters.

Diverse voices turned out in full force at the public hearing to rebuke the most recent example of this pattern of practice:

  • Terry Dotson of heavy-duty truck dealer Worldwide Equipment Inc. testified that his company could build glider kits, but chose not to because “we choose to do the right thing.”
  • Blanca Iris Verduzco, on behalf of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, spoke as a resident of South East Los Angeles, an industrialized community exposed to a lot of freight transportation pollution. She urged EPA to protect her community from health dangers, and not to roll back protections.
  • John Calvin Doub with TMI Truck and Equipment expressed concern for his three grandchildren, and talked about the breathing difficulties caused by air pollution. He cautioned EPA that until you have witnessed a child having an asthma attack, you don’t understand the full impacts of pollution from trucks.

EDF was represented at the hearing by Martha Roberts, Erin Murphy, Surbhi Sarang, and John Bullock. Their full testimonies are available here:

EPA is still accepting public comments on the proposed rollback of safeguards against glider truck pollution. You can send your comments through January 5th.

Posted in News / Read 1 Response

The accelerating market for zero emission trucks

Tesla Semi prototype. Photo: Smnt, Creative Commons

The recent reveal of the Tesla semi-truck is  garnering  attention for the role zero emission vehicles can play in the future of trucking.

Much of the excitement around zero emission trucks stems from the fact that medium-and-heavy duty trucks – critical tools of our modern economy that operate daily in our neighborhoods and communities — have outsized environmental and health impacts.

Trucks today emit dangerous pollutants, including:

Zero emission vehicles are exciting because of their ability to drive progress on all of these pollutants simultaneously.

A clear indicator of the emergence of zero emission trucks is the plethora of recent product announcements from major manufacturers:

Multiple large manufacturers are investing in electric trucks because they recognize a robust, long-term market for these products. These investments reinforce each other by building resilient supply chains, industry knowledge, and production scale.

Most zero emission truck announcements have been for urban or regional vehicle platforms. Urban areas stand to benefit greatly from the significant reduction in local air pollution offered by zero emission trucks because cities’ density means that many people will get to breathe cleaner air. Buses and delivery vehicles typically have modest daily range demands and predicable charging patterns.

Drayage vehicles should be another high-priority for electrification. These trucks run cargo in and out of marine ports and railyards, frequently traversing dense urban neighborhoods. Often these vehicles are among the oldest and highest polluting trucks on the road. Replacing them with zero emission solutions provides critical local air quality benefits to overburdened communities while also driving meaningful greenhouse gas reductions. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that up to 1,200 pounds of nitrogen oxides  and more than 100 pounds  of particulate matter could be reduced annually by replacing an old diesel drayage truck with a zero emission vehicle. More than 12 tons of carbon dioxide would also be reduced each year.

Zero emission solutions are needed for freight operations too. A recent ICCT analysis found wide-scale adoption of electric tractor-trailers in Europe would reduce climate emissions by 115 million tons in 2050 beyond a scenario that relied solely on maximizing diesel truck efficiency. The analysis illustrates a crucial point – in order to get the largest clean air and climate benefits from freight trucks, we will need both zero emission trucks and significantly more fuel efficient diesel trucks. Each vehicle configuration has an important role to play.

The U.S. Clean Trucks program, extended and strengthened in 2016 by the Obama Administration, is a model that other countries can follow for driving efficiency improvements. It sets long-term, protective standards. The latest round of the standards will cut more than a billion tons of carbon emissions and save truck owners $170 billion dollars. The program enjoys broad support among manufacturers, fleets, shippers and clean air advocates.

The Trump Administration has taken aim at key Clean Truck program provisions that drive improvements in trailer design and close a loophole for super-polluting trucks. Defending the popular and effective program from these pernicious attacks must be an imperative for the freight industry. No company wants its freight hauled by a truck that spews 40 times more pollution or contributes to an additional 1,600 premature deaths annually. Electric semi-trucks will of course be pulling trailers. These trailers will need to be designed with fuel efficiency in mind if electric semi-trucks are to deliver on their full potential.

Zero emission freight trucks need to be operated in a manner that minimizes lifecycle emissions across the entire freight system. Thus, green freight best practices are relevant for zero emission vehicles too. These vehicles will need to complement use of freight rail, which emits more than 80 percent less carbon per ton mile than conventional trucks. They will need to be regularly run with full loads to minimize lifecycle emissions per ton mile. They should be charged primarily by renewable energy. All of these actions, made by fleets, will be influenced by the demands of cargo owners.

It is time for companies and communities to pay attention to these zero emission solutions. These trucks have a clear near-term role in urban delivery. Embracing low and zero emissions drayage solutions will provide immediate and significant human health benefits for communities near ports and railyards. In the years ahead, ZEVs will even have a role in longer-haul operations.

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Health, News / Comments are closed