Illinois can step up as environmental leader in truck and bus electrification

Yesterday, Illinois State Senator Celina Villanueva and House Representative Edgar Gonzalez, Jr. introduced a resolution to encourage Gov. Pritzker to sign on to a memorandum of understanding that would commit the state to a goal of transitioning all medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses to zero-emission models by 2050. Spearheaded largely by the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and the Illinois Environmental Council, the resolution will encourage a key step towards a clean transportation future.

Prioritizing improvements in air quality

Zero-emission trucks and buses will reduce harmful air pollution across the state. Prioritizing charging infrastructure and deployment of vehicles in pollution-burdened communities would make the biggest impact where it is needed most. Illinois is no stranger to transportation air pollution; greenhouse gas emissions from transportation make up approximately 34% of the total in the state. The air quality impact of these vehicles is also significant; of note is the situation in Chicago, which ranked 16th nationally for high ozone days and 15th for particle pollution. In addition, a recent analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists demonstrates these air quality impacts are not evenly felt. People of color are exposed to a disproportionate amount of particulate matter, including from trucks and buses. Asian Americans, African Americans, and Latinos are exposed to 32%, 21%, and 19% more fine particulate matter, respectively, than whites in the state. Addressing these disproportionate impacts by implementing equitable policies is a must.

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Strengthening current legislation

The Clean Energy Jobs Act and Gov. Pritzker’s new bill are monumental steps toward a clean energy economy and ensuring that Illinois residents have access to new, well-paying jobs. However, the primary focus of these bills is light-duty vehicles. This will chip away at the problem, but fails to concretely and systematically address trucks and buses, which are some of the largest sources of harmful air pollution. Committing to a clear goal to transition trucks and buses to zero-emission alternatives, preferably by 2040, is a necessary, though not sufficient step.

Holistic transformation of the truck and bus sector

Though the MOU would represent a key step forward, it is important to remember that it is just the beginning. Other action will be necessary to transition the truck and bus sector in a sustainable, cost-effective and equitable way — including policies that remedy inequities in the distribution of transportation pollution, thereby ensuring sufficient charging stations to support a growing number of zero-emission vehicles. More specifically, this includes effective rate design and adoption of California standards like the Advanced Clean Truck and Heavy-duty Omnibus rules, which will provide the clear market signals needed for the transition.

State leadership on zero-emission trucks and buses

Signing on to this MOU would make Illinois the first Midwest state to do so and continue the leadership it demonstrated for the light-duty sector through existing legislation and revised plans for VW settlement funds. Given Illinois’s position as a national crossroads for freight traffic and the fact that the highway system in Illinois is the fourth largest in the nation, this would present a significant signal to the rest of the Midwest. Illinois is also home to vehicle manufacturing companies such as Volvo, Rivian, Navistar and the recently announced Lion Electric Company factory in Joliet. Moving forward with a zero-emission vehicle goal will further spur the manufacture of zero-emission vehicles and bring down cost as economies of scale continue to increase.

EDF joins the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Illinois Environmental Council and others working in Illinois in encouraging Gov. Pritzker to make this historic commitment. Though it is only one step in a longer process, stakeholders and the residents of Illinois stand committed to seeing this process through.


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