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Electrifying All U.S. Trucks Is Possible—Here’s How

The White House must set a national strategy for freight electrification alongside a strong heavy-duty vehicle rule.

 

 

 

Breaking: Do the CEOs of Volvo Trucks and Daimler (aka Mercedes-Benz) know their US branches are fighting to weaken vital climate rules? We just made sure they do.

Behind closed doors, Volvo Trucks USA and Daimler Truck North America have been fighting tooth and nail against common sense clean air and clean truck standards in the USA. This is in direct contradiction to the stated values and commitments of their parent companies, Volvo Group and Daimler Truck AG. 

These standards are projected to save Americans an estimated $320 billion in climate, health and fuel costs while avoiding approximately 1.8 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from 2027 through 2055. 

A coalition of US based and European groups just sent urgent letters to Martin Lundstedt (President and CEO Volvo Group) and Martin Daum (Chairman, Daimler Truck AG) to step in and urge their US-based counterparts to stop using their power and industry associations to delay the transition to zero-emission trucks. 

 

 

Updated December 14, 2023

There’s a solution to cleaning up decades-long pollution in port and freight communities, and it comes down to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalizing a strong clean trucks rule. With a rule that sets a clear path to the end of combustion trucks, we can finally clean up communities blighted by decades of truck pollution all over this country and build a world-leading, electrified, and reliable supply chain for the critical freight sector—creating good jobs and clearer skies.

A strong rule is possible—because electrifying our trucks and building out charging infrastructure is possible. And a strong rule is absolutely necessary—because addressing transportation pollution means advancing environmental justice, cleaner air, healthier communities, and a more livable planet. 

But some truck manufacturers—like Volvo and Daimler—and their trade associations, like the Engine and Truck Manufacturing Association (EMA) and American Trucking Association (ATA), are putting up a fight against these clean air and clean truck standards behind closed doors. Despite taking millions in public money for their new electric trucks. 

And while every one of the nation’s big truck engine manufacturers already agreed to 100 percent zero-emission vehicle sales in California (the nation’s largest market) by 2036, these same companies have now turned around to quietly lobby to weaken, stall, rollback, or cheat the federal clean trucks rule, claiming they are too ambitious under the existing timeline and infrastructure demands. 

 

What Truck Companies and Trade Groups Say to the Public vs. Say to EPA

They make big corporate commitments, run massive PR campaigns appearing to support decarbonizing the sector, and then fill EPA’s regulatory docket with comments full of objections that they really hope you won’t compare to their public claims. But we checked:

American Trucking Association (ATA)

Publicly Claiming   Quietly Lobbying 
"ATA is committed to adopting policies that improve our emissions profile. To that end, we work closely with EPA and other stakeholders to develop emission standards for trucks. These partnerships save billions in fuel consumption, fuel costs, and emissions for fleets."   "ATA is concerned that EPA’s proposed Heavy-Duty Greenhouse Gas Phase 3 regulation will push electrification in an industry that unfortunately isn’t ripe to adopt the technology yet."

 

Volvo Trucks

Publicly Claiming   Quietly Lobbying 
"Electric trucks are now becoming a reality and a viable solution for cities and businesses, contributing to quieter cities, cleaner air, and efficient transport."   Our customers will not purchase zero-emission trucks unless both the vehicles and the fuels are cost-effective and readily available so as not to negatively impact their business operations.”

 

Daimler Truck North America (DTNA)

Publicly Claiming   Quietly Lobbying 
"At Daimler Truck North America, we are poised to transform the movement of freight and people by leading the charge to electric commercial vehicles while delivering the world’s best customer experience for fleets and drivers alike."   No new Phase 3 CO2 standards should apply until [Model Year] 2030…success is ultimately determined by myriad market forces greater than manufacturers alone can control… DTNA believes EPA’s Alternate Proposal is unrealistic and unachievable.”

 

Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA)

Publicly Claiming   Quietly Lobbying 
"EMA and its members remain fully committed to collaborating with EPA and other stakeholders as we work toward our shared vision for a zero-emission commercial vehicle future."  

“EPA’s Phase 3 NPRM [Notice of Proposed Rulemaking] has missed the mark by a wide margin. EPA has premised the NPRM on significantly overstated predictions of future ZEV-truck adoption rates...The net result is an NPRM that is fundamentally flawed and unworkable. Indeed, without very substantial revision, EPA’s Phase 3 proposal will amount to an arbitrary, capricious and wholly unreasonable rulemaking.”

 

All this industry hand-wringing over infrastructure is a delay tactic. The best and fastest way to get big investments in the charging and fueling stations needed for zero-emission trucks is, of course, a strong federal rule requiring those trucks. Such a rule would send a clear signal to private and public entities to direct more funds to bring infrastructure online. 

So, when industry says that we need to build up all that infrastructure before a rule requires it, and that only then could there be a rule, what they are really saying there should be no rule at all. They would prefer to hide behind this fake technical argument and continue poisoning communities with combustion trucks for years to come without any real federal push to do better.

But it’s time to call their bluff. With billions available in Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) funding, the public sector can accelerate progress—and demolish this fake talking point—by charting a clear path forward, combining strong rules with smart investments. Fortunately, the White House can help the U.S. accelerate to 100 percent zero-emission trucks and build out the charging infrastructure we need by creating a national strategy for freight electrification alongside the final heavy-duty vehicle rule.

 

There’s Billions to Fund Truck Charging Infrastructure

The White House has already made significant progress in expanding the charging network for light-duty vehicles, capitalizing on nearly $24 billion in funds for public charging infrastructure—setting us up to exceed the goal of 500,000 public chargers by 2030. But we can’t just focus on light-duty vehicles. 

Heavy-duty vehicles, like trucks and buses, make up only 10 percent of vehicles on the road but a disproportionate proportion of the transportation sector’s nitrogen oxide, particulate matter (PM), and greenhouse gas pollution. Pollution from diesel trucks is especially dangerous. Low-income communities and communities of color are more likely to live in “diesel death zones,” where truck pollution puts them at greater risk of heart and lung disease, cancer, asthma, and even death.  

Delaying or weakening EPA’s clean trucks standards delays relief for families who are forced to breathe in toxic fumes daily and denies cleaner air for communities living with the impacts of environmental racism and redlining that have made them more endangered by the harms of truck pollution. 

Luckily, there are billions of dollars in public investment on the table to support heavy-duty charging infrastructure deployment—just as the administration used for light-duty charging. 

EPA, as well as the Departments of Energy (DOE) and Transportation (DOT), and states have unprecedented amounts of funding through:

With billions on the table for heavy-duty vehicle electrification infrastructure, it’s critical that money flows to states, local and Tribal governments, and communities effectively. Now, it’s on the White House to ensure these funds are successfully coordinated to make these ambitious standards a reality. 

Blog Post Image - Truck Charger

Billions of dollars in public investment are on the table to support heavy-duty charging infrastructure deployment—just as the Biden administration has used for light-duty charging. © 2023 CEC/Flickr CC BY 2.0

The Biden Administration Must Mobilize Agencies and Funds Effectively

Currently, the challenge is that federal agencies aren’t focusing their investments in the highest-priority ports, industrial zones, and freight corridors. 

But with focused attention on the biggest ports, we can sprint ahead. For instance, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach combined make up the largest shipping hubs and source of air pollution in one of the most populated parts of the U.S. More than half of all U.S. imports originate or come in outside the L.A. region, meaning prioritizing electrifying this port, and other high-trafficked port and freight facilities like the Texas Triangle and the Great Lakes, can mean drastically improving the air quality and cutting carbon pollution in communities plagued by smog, asthma, and other health issues.

This isn’t just a theoretical—a new report from non-partisan expert International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) offers the proof. Their analysis shows that the U.S. can electrify far more of the trucking fleet than EPA has proposed with focused infrastructure investments in the biggest ports and trucking corridors.

The report also provides mapping resources that highlights priority corridors for electrifying long-haul truck activity: Infrastructure deployed on less than 10 percent of the highway network would get almost double the electrification that EPA’s proposal forecasts, proving industry bluster on infrastructure is just plain wrong. 

Blog Post Image - Map 1

Map courtesy of ICCT.

Blog Post Image - Map 2

Map courtesy of ICCT.

In addition to this being entirely possible, further analysis from ICCT shows that this approach can lead to incredible results. Researchers focused on two busy hubs—the Port of Seattle and the Port of New York and New Jersey (NY/NJ)—and quantitatively modeled that full electrification of these ports would mean drastically cutting PM pollution and provide tens of millions of dollars in public health benefits. 

Moreover, a vast majority of heavy-duty trucks spend their working lives within a 100-mile radius of their bases, meaning the number of chargers we need is not as many as we might think. In fact, most trucks won’t have to charge any more often than they would fill up with gas. 

Because the freight system operates across focused nodes and corridors, it is ripe for coordinated planning. That’s why electrifying states, like California, have already begun outlining statewide Zero-Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Plans (aptly named “ZIPs”) to help ports, utilities, governments, communities, and trucking firms move forward together. It’s time for the administration to take this idea national: A strong EPA rule can be supported by aligned funds, planning, and infrastructure deployment. And by rolling out the initiatives together, the administration can overcome industry bluster while accelerating forward.

A national zero-emission freight strategy, led by the White House, would address this gap in coordination and geographical prioritization because not all infrastructure needs to be built out at once. A broad vision from the administration could identify these key ports, high-priority corridors, and industrial zones that have the greatest return on investment. And then, using its convening authorities, the White House could direct federal agencies to align grant programs and strike key agreements among utilities, ports, states, truck-makers, government and labor groups, and communities to accelerate building essential charging infrastructure. 

In short, the White House has the power to provide all players with the necessary guidance to effectively navigate this transition and the unprecedented opportunity to lead in a nationwide adoption of zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles and infrastructure. Moreover, a strong rule paired with a White House-led vision also sends a signal to industry and the private sector to invest in charging infrastructure. And a national strategy can create more state-level ZIPs to decarbonize particular parts of the freight system, undergirded by federal grants, including EPA’s own Climate Pollution Reduction Grants Program, among many others.

Blog Post Image - Bus Mechanic

A worker does maintenance on an electric bus. Electrifying trucks goes hand-in-hand with creating clean energy jobs. © 2021 California Energy Commission/Flickr CC BY 2.0

Electrifying Trucks and Buses Must Go Hand-in-Hand With Good-Paying Union Jobs

Building an electrified charging infrastructure will require a skilled workforce of electricians—and behind the wheel of every electric truck or bus is a driver. Electrifying trucks and trucking infrastructure across the U.S. presents an opportunity to both clean up our nation’s air and create more clean energy jobs. 

That’s why it’s essential to focus on high labor standards for the workers building this charging network and these vehicles—including prevailing wages and an opportunity to join a union—and for those operating and fixing those vehicles. Creating a domestic electric vehicle supply chain with good-paying, family-sustaining careers will help foster and keep talent, create safer working conditions, and increase equity. And there’s already a well-recognized training program to support and train the thousands of electricians who can do well-paid work to build up our new national system. 

In its national strategy for freight electrification, the White House must help build a zero-pollution, reliable, and union-built supply chain and ensure key actors—from utilities to unions to frontline community leaders—have a seat at the table. It can support apprenticeship and training programs for workers, which have been shown to improve safety, diversity, and equity in the workplace

 

Clean Trucks and Buses Mean Cleaner Air and Healthier Communities

Getting a strong version of the heavy-duty vehicle standard across the finish line means much more than checking a regulatory box on EPA’s to-do list. It means putting into action what EPA Administrator Michael Regan said a year ago in “leaving no stone unturned” when it comes to tackling the climate crisis and protecting communities. 

It will mean cleaner air for people across the country—especially those in BIPOC and lower-income communities, who have endured decades of high pollution levels due to racist policies that forced them into heavily trafficked areas.

Blog Post Image - Electric School Bus

As of 2021, Twin Rivers Unified School District in McClellan, California has the largest fleet of electric school buses in the nation. A strong heavy-duty vehicle rule would incentivize creating more electric school buses. © 2019 California Energy Commission/Flickr CC BY 2.0

Places like Southern California, known as much for their idyllic beaches as they are for their smog, could finally see improvements in their communities’ health, lower rates of cancer and asthma, and a chance to spend more time outside without the need for albuterol inhalers or a N95 mask. 

The addition of more electric school buses, which a strong heavy-duty vehicle rule would also incentivize, would mean cleaner air for children and a healthier work environment for bus drivers and other student transportation employees. 

Bold climate action does more than cut greenhouse gas pollution; it advances a sustainable, clean energy economy and serves communities that have been left behind for too long. Now, the White House has an opportunity to build this positive and healthy future and call industry’s bluff. 

The pending truck carbon rules are once in a generation: We need to decarbonize that sector now to stay within climate targets and meet environmental justice imperatives for communities. Rather than delaying the rule until infrastructure magically appears, as industry delay tactics would have it, the administration needs to ramp up the stringency of its truck carbon pollution rules at the same time as it sets out a strategy to align funds and programs to support those rules. That full-court press will meet the moment by giving us strong rules, while showing that the full financial and convening might of the government is behind them—and put an end to industry’s fake waiting game.

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EPA is close to finalizing its heavy-duty vehicles rule, but they might miss the chance to include life-saving updates.

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