States have an opportunity to be more ambitious in new “action plan” on zero-emission trucks, buses

The drive toward a zero-emission future logged another mile of progress after the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, representing a coalition of 16 states, the Province of Quebec, and Washington D.C. last week unveiled its draft action plan to put more electric trucks and buses on U.S. roads.

The draft model action plan represents an excellent roadmap for these states as they aim to achieve the zero-emission sales targets outlined in the MOU they all signed back in July 2020: 30% of new truck and bus sales by 2030 and 100% by 2050. Importantly, the plan was developed in collaboration with EJ and community advocates, which is an indispensable component of the policymaking process.

Given that these states represent about one-third of the U.S. truck market, this commitment – and the plan to achieve it – are both important pieces of the puzzle to support increased adoption of zero-emission trucks and buses.

However, states have an opportunity to enact more ambitious goals than the ones set out in the NESCAUM MOU and model action plan – one they can and should seize to address the significant health and climate concerns posed by trucks and buses.

Truck, bus pollution is deadly

Addressing diesel truck and bus pollution is imperative. These vehicles are a leading source of climate pollution, and despite making up only about 10 percent of vehicles on U.S. roads, they are the largest contributor to nitrogen oxide emissions and health-harming fine particulates.

This pollution can damage people’s hearts and lungs, while also triggering strokes and asthma attacks. Studies show that this health-harming pollution disproportionately affects Black, Latino, Asian American and Indigenous people in the United States.

States need to be more ambitious in addressing this pollution by ensuring their zero-emission targets match the climate and health imperative Americans face today. Simply put, states can and should look to advancing a more ambitious goal than 2050 – many use cases can successfully be transitioned to 100% sales of zero-emission vehicles by 2030 and states should recognize that feasibility in their policies.

Political will, supportive policies needed now

Meeting this more ambitious target is completely feasible. By 2027, most electric work trucks and buses will become less expensive on an upfront and total-cost-of-ownership basis than their combustion engine counterparts, according to new analysis by EDF. There’s been a 625% increase in the number of zero-emission truck models available since 2019 – proving that market availability is no longer a valid excuse for slow-walking this transition.

What we need now is political will and policies that will adequately support the adoption of these vehicles in a cost-effective, equitable and maximally beneficial way.

States should move swiftly to incorporate the recommendations laid out in the draft model action plan, which includes the following:

  • Equity should be a cornerstone of all policymaking. To achieve the broader sales targets in the MOU, equity must be woven throughout all supportive state policies. This means not only designing policies with the most impacted communities in mind, but ensuring they have a seat at the table when formulating and executing these policies. Transportation pollution mapping, monitoring and robust screening tools can help ensure appropriate prioritization of investment.
  • State action on truck and bus pollution is imperative. Key policies like the Advanced Clean Trucks rule and the Heavy-Duty Omnibus rule will be essential to growing the market for zero-emission trucks and buses, while ensuring that new diesel vehicles are as clean as possible. EPA just this week proposed stronger pollution standards for trucks and buses. But these federal standards do not kick in till 2027 and fail to sufficiently ensure deployment of zero-emission trucks and buses as currently proposed.  Notwithstanding the imperative that EPA strengthen these standards to ensure meaningful ZEV deployment, the current EPA proposal further underscores the urgent opportunity for leading state action.
  • Marketing, education and outreach must be robust and strategic. States and utilities, in combination with community-based organizations, can and should be effectively disseminating information about the cost, environmental, health and grid benefits of EVs. This outreach should be tailored to a diversity of audiences, ensuring entities and customers with less technical know-how and capital understand the ins and outs of transitioning, and the financial assistance options available to them. This should come with technical assistance on the operations and charging of these vehicles that can allow EV drivers to fully harness the benefits of zero-emission vehicles.
  • Financial assistance should come in many forms. States should recognize that financial assistance is not one-size-fits-all. Multiple options must be available, including point-of-purchase vouchers and rebates, tariffed-on-bill financing and low-interest loans. Senate Bill 372 in California presents an excellent model for states to follow.
  • Abundant, affordable charging is needed to support these vehicles. While federal infrastructure money is an excellent way to move the needle on passenger EVs, the public charging it will help deploy is not sufficient for the depot charging trucks and buses require. As such, utility and state investment in charging stations must be a catalyst to increase private investment, particularly for small businesses and underserved areas. Without charging, policies like the ACT that drive sales of zero-emission trucks and buses could be hampered. Of course, charging investment must also be accompanied by well-designed electricity rates and other means of ensuring these vehicles are successfully integrated into the grid in a clean, reliable and affordable way.

With the draft model action plan, states have a key opportunity to tackle one of the biggest sources of pollution in their jurisdiction while demonstrating climate leadership. By not acting with sufficient ambition or with a suite of policies that will affect the transition in a cost-effective, equitable way – they will have missed this opportunity.

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