Trucking Industry Doubletalk Hurts Our Lungs And Their Own Bottom Line

Generic design Heavy Electric Trucks charging at Public Charging Station with roof-mounted solar ... [+] panels. 3D rendering image.

Some leading heavy-duty truck manufacturers are talking out of both sides of their mouth when it comes to climate change, publicly promising a shift to electric trucks while – less publicly - trying to undermine U.S. Environmental Protection Agency efforts to cut diesel pollution from heavy trucks. Compact Tractor Loader Backhoe

Trucking Industry Doubletalk Hurts Our Lungs And Their Own Bottom Line

Saying one thing and doing another takes a terrible toll. Medium and heavy diesel trucks comprise less than 6% of vehicles on the road, but spew more than half the smog and soot Americans breathe. This increases asthma, lung disease and cancer rates, predominantly in low-income communities of color that tend to live near highways, warehouses, or ports. Diesel trucks also suffer rising fuel costs from volatile, increasingly frequent oil market price spikes.

Embracing electric heavy-duty trucks can solve both these problems – cleaning air and cutting costs – while fueling new job growth. California recently announced promising news showing this is possible, especially with financial incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act.

The state’s shift away from diesel and gas-powered trucks is running two years ahead of schedule, and manufacturers are already selling enough zero emissions vehicles (ZEVs)—school buses, delivery trucks, tractor trailers, and other heavy-duty vehicles—to meet ambitious 2025 state goals for deploying electric trucks.

Another seven states have followed California’s lead and adopted a similar requirement within their borders, accounting for more than a quarter of annual US heavy and medium duty sales. Modeling from the International Council of Clean Transportation (ICCT) and Energy Innovation suggest that as many as 48% of new nationwide medium and heavy duty truck sales by 2030 could be electric, which is greater than EPA’s proposed rules for 2032.

It seems like the CEOs of leading truck manufacturers agree. In June 2022, Daimler Trucks CEO Martin Daum claimed, “the greatest responsibility for us as a company is dealing with climate change,” and Daimler announced an “ambitious technology roadmap” where up to 60% of its heavy trucks sales would be ZEV by 2030. That same month, Volvo’s CEO Martin Lundstedt similarly claimed “climate change is the challenge of our generation” and Volvo president Roger Alm said that Volvo is committed to 50% of the vehicles it sells be zero emission by 2030, and 100% by 2050.

These corporate announcements should translate into corporate support for EPA’s proposed rules—which would be implemented on 2027-2032 model year trucks—and should be all but guaranteed, since it also makes financial sense. Lawrence Berkeley National Lab research in 2021 found that electric trucks with that year’s battery prices would save operators $200,000 over the truck’s lifetime, economics that aren’t lost on fleet operators.

This would be exciting stuff—if these companies backed up their public announcements.

Unfortunately, Volvo and Daimler and their industry group, the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA) are working to relax EPA’s proposed standards. A recent EMA report called EPA’s proposal “arbitrary, capricious and wholly unreasonable.” Volvo and Daimler have also independently criticized the regulations via EPA’s comment process, advocating in June 2023 to delay the standards by three years to 2030.

Yes, the proposed standards are challenging—combatting the climate crisis isn’t easy—but they are hardly “unreasonable.” In fact, Volvo and Daimler would easily satisfy EPA’s requirements simply by meeting their own proposed 2030 ZEV sales goals. If they are serious about fighting climate change, they will support these rules along with companies like Ford, who have publicly expressed their support for EPA’s proposed standards.

Market trends suggest the shift towards zero-emission trucks and buses is already accelerating, with one analysis predicting the global electric truck market will nearly quadruple from $17.8 billion in 2022 to $65 billion in 2032 – a much higher growth rate than diesel trucks.

As of December 2022, 41 manufacturers were selling 136 zero-emission truck models. Amazon is deploying 100,000 Rivian electric vans while committing to 50 percent zero-carbon shipments by 2030, and FedEx aims to electrify 100 percent of its global pick-up and delivery fleet by 2030.

This combination of combination of corporate commitments and government policies to decarbonize heavy trucking is being supercharged by the Inflation Reduction Act’s financial incentives for electric trucks. A recent report shows the IRA has driven $14.5 billion in investments in U.S. medium and heavy-duty truck related manufacturing and more than 23,000 new jobs.

Heavy truck manufacturers often bemoan the lack of national charging infrastructure as one of the reasons to oppose the standards, but this is not a barrier to meeting EPA’s ZEV requirements. Recent ICCT analysis shows EPA’s 2030 truck emission goals could be met by vehicles traveling along less than 1% of the national interstate highway system where charging infrastructure will be concentrated.

Billions in investments are rapidly expanding that charging infrastructure. The Edison Electric Institute, which represents all U.S. investor-owned electric utilities, supports EPA’s standards and reports more than 30 states and the District of Columbia have already approved investments totaling more than $4.2 billion. New, private sector infrastructure providers—including Terrawatt Infrastructure, Forum Mobilty, WattEV, and GreenLane – have emerged building out heavy duty charging stations.

Opportunities to reduce greenhouse gases and improve air quality in the medium and heavy-duty truck sector are huge, especially compared to the relatively small number of vehicles it represents. EPA’s proposal for medium and heavy-duty vehicles are realistic and would put more electric, hydrogen fuel cell, and other clean technologies on the road. They’d also create jobs, improve public health, saving billions in medical care and help mitigate the worst impacts of climate change.[SM1]

Trucking Industry Doubletalk Hurts Our Lungs And Their Own Bottom Line

Very Small Tractor In California, industry players showed that they can meet their public promises by collaborating with regulators to support ambitious goals to reduce air pollution. I hope the industry can find common ground with EPA as they did with CA to meet their public commitments. Zeroing out harmful emissions from trucks will improve public health, save their clients money - and help save our planet.