US President-elect Biden’s stated aim of taking America to a cleaner, greener future has put the country’s huge fleet of diesel trucks and buses under the spotlight as the new administration has made clear that clean transportation is at the heart of the plan to ‘Build Back Better’.
That focus can’t be accomplished without a strong emphasis on America’s 13 million heavy duty trucks and buses, which om their own produce significantly more climate pollution than the entire economy of Great Britain.
To achieve its goal, the Biden administration needs to put the United States on a path to 100 per cent zero pollution new trucks and buses by 2040 — and commit to quickly setting ambitious pollution standards to drive this transition say US industry observers.
The rest of the world has already begun moving toward zero pollution electric vehicles and significantly just about every major manufacturer from Ford to Cummins to Daimler has made significant investment in zero emission vehicles.
GM has just announced it has jumped into the electric delivery-van market with logistics giant FedEx as its first customer.
It’s clear that the race is on to build market share, and the ]real question is whether these new technology vehicles will generate new jobs will be created in the U.S.A or just in Europe and China.
China dominated 95 per cent of the fast-growing zero emission vehicle market by the end of 2019 by mandating requirements for zero-emission truck and bus manufacturing and policies to help ease and accelerate the transition.
European Union and its member states is doing the same, by setting strong vehicle standards and making investments to expand domestic supply chains for batteries and other key components.
In response to these policy directives and public investments, European truck makers have pledged to transition their production lines to zero-pollution technologies almost a decade earlier than planned, underlining the fact that the policies are starting to work.
Its clear from the public statements by major transport operators that zero pollution trucks will soon become a regular sight on American highways. However the Biden administration is hoping and wanting those trucks to come off assembly lines in places like Hamtramck, in Michigan or Spartanburg, South Carolina instead of arriving by ship from Hamburg and Shanghai.
To ensure this the new administration will need to act quickly with executive orders that set goals to help drive investment in American electric truck manufacturing.
Proponents in the USA say that clean trucks and buses can also help address inequities in exposure to air pollution, by bringing health and economic benefits to communities of color and lower-income neighborhoods. Those Americans often live near ports, highways, distribution centres and industrial sites which leads to significantly increased exposure to harmful air pollution from trucks.
Data from the industrial city of Oakland in California, across the bay from the technology capital of the USA, San Francisco, shows that those who live in closer proximity to heavy-duty truck traffic live shorter lives than those that don’t.
One study by the California Air Resources Board found that trucks contributed over 70 per cent of the elevated cancer risk in West Oakland, the community adjacent to the Port of Oakland. Clean truck standards can help reduce hundreds of millions of metric tonnes of climate pollution and hundreds of thousands of tonnes of local health harming pollutants. Medium and heavy-duty vehicles make up approximately 4 per cent of all vehicles on the road, but contribute 90 per cent of all nitrogen oxides pollution from diesel mobile sources.
US reports also cite clean school buses as being critically important. Currently, 99 per cent of the USA’s school buses emit harmful pollutants, contributing to asthma, cancers and other ailments.
This impact, particularly on disadvantaged communities, is why buses along with urban delivery trucks should transition to zero pollution vehicles even earlier, by 2035.
At least 125 zero-emission truck and bus models are currently in production, development or demonstration in the USA.
There are models for each major segment of the heavy-duty truck market, including transit and school buses, delivery vans, box trucks and combination trucks. Established manufacturers such as Mack and recent entrants like Rivian and Lion Electric are already producing, with companies from Amazon to Walmart to Pepsi also looking to switch their fleets to zero emissions trucks.
Despite all of this promising activity, federal standards will be needed to set a clear pathway. Without it, U.S. manufacturers will be hesitant to invest in full-scale production capacity. As these companies have proven time and time again, they can rise to meet any challenge but they need a predictable business climate to get out of the gate.
Congressional investment will also be needed to promote job growth and accelerate the transition in the early years: policies and programs to help local governments and school districts get electric work trucks and school buses on the road, make sure charging infrastructure is in place, and build out domestic supply chains for batteries. The new administration can get things started by using its authority under current law.
Joe Biden ran for president on the strongest climate action platform in American history, with a promise to rebuild the COVID-battered economy in ways that will make the country stronger and more equitable for the long term.
However unless Biden seizes the opportunity presented by electric trucks and buses as well as cars, he’ll be missing a chance to drive jobs and promote environmental justice. Turning the innovative genius and industrial might of America to the problem of clean trucks and buses will be central to achieving his goals.