February 17, 2023
Three types of policies are needed: clean truck standards, purchasing incentives, and charging infrastructure programs.
Personal electric vehicles have entered the mainstream — the ads are seemingly everywhere, and you are probably seeing more and more of them on the streets or maybe you already own one yourself. But what about large commercial vehicles like delivery vans, dump trucks, or transit buses? Large commercial vehicles are known as medium and heavy-duty (MHD) vehicles and the graphic below illustrates the diverse mix of vehicle types they encompass.
These vehicles are critical to our society — delivering goods, providing services, and transporting people — but they also are major contributors to poor air quality and climate change. Unlike their diesel-powered counterparts, zero-emission trucks have no tailpipe emissions and offer significant opportunities to clean up local air pollution. MHD vehicles make up for only 5% of vehicles on the road, but they account for 30% of on-road greenhouse gas emissions, 42% of on-road nitrogen oxides (NOx)emissions, and 51% of on-road atmospheric fine particulate matter (PM2.5) emissions. PM2.5 emissions create unhealthy air quality, which causes asthma, lung maladies, and cardiovascular diseases. So, electrifying these larger vehicles is critical to addressing climate change and addressing poor air quality that disproportionately affects lower-income neighborhoods due to their proximity to major roadways, ports, and warehouses where truck pollution is most prominent.
There are three critical policy pillars states need to rapidly accelerate adoption of zero emission MHD vehicles: clean truck standards, purchasing incentives, and policies for charging infrastructure.
Clean Truck Standards
Clean truck standards, namely the Advanced Clean Truck (ACT) and Heavy-Duty Omnibus rules, will ensure greater availability of all-electric MHD vehicle models and implement stricter emission controls for conventional vehicles for states who adopt them. The ACT requires manufacturers to guarantee a certain percentage of their sales are of zero-emission vehicles — and that percentage will increase year over year. This rule will ensure adequate supply of zero-emission MHD vehicles are available for purchase and provide market certainty to fleets. The Heavy-Duty Omnibus rule will require new diesel vehicles to reduce NOx emissions 90% by 2031, which will dramatically improve air quality and public health in states that adopt the standards. If adopted together, as many states have done or are planning to do, these standards will greatly reduce the climate and air quality impacts of medium and heavy-duty trucking.
While standards are critical to ensuring supply of vehicles and demonstrating market certainty, the truth is that, although zero-emission MHD vehicle prices are coming down and they are less expensive to own and operate than diesel vehicles, they are still more expensive to purchase. Incentives to reduce the cost of purchasing these vehicles are needed to help fleets overcome this upfront cost barrier. Luckily, recently passed federal legislation has created many new programs which can provide funding for states to create incentive programs to reduce the upfront cost of these vehicles.
Three new federal programs in particular — the Carbon Reduction Program, the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, and the Clean Heavy Duty Grants program — offer great opportunities for states that are looking to create their own incentive programs for MHD vehicles. And a few states are doing just that.
WRA is Helping Create New Incentive Programs for MHD Vehicles
WRA is supporting legislation in Nevada and New Mexico that would leverage funding from these federal programs to create state-based incentive programs that would help reduce the upfront costs of zero emission MHD vehicles. Legislation in these states also proposes to give extra assistance and prioritization to public transportation fleets and businesses operating in communities overburdened by truck pollution.
These are exactly the types of innovative approaches states can take to overcome the price difference between polluting vehicles and more efficient zero emission ones, leading to better air quality and public health outcomes in the communities that need them most, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Charging infrastructure is the critical final piece to creating an environment that encourages rapid adoption and deployment of zero-emission MHD vehicles. While standards ensure vehicle availability and incentives make those vehicles attainable for fleets, fleets need charging infrastructure to use vehicles on a day-to-day basis. Electric utilities are the key entities to ensure this charging infrastructure is in place, as they are needed for site planning, development of electricity rates for charging those vehicles, and providing incentives to reduce the cost of charging infrastructure.
Some innovative utilities are starting to show initiative, but more action is needed in upcoming transportation electrification plans to provide technical and financial incentives to ensure charging infrastructure is in place for all-electric MHD vehicles. WRA continues to advocate for the approval of robust charging infrastructure programs in utility transportation electrification plans, with the goal of pushing utilities to support grid-friendly charging for vehicles of all classes and lessening barriers to the adoption of electric MHD vehicles.
Cleaner Commercial Vehicles Will Benefit Everyone
When standards, incentives, and charging infrastructure programs are put in place, states will position themselves to see rapid development of the MHD charging sector and reap the benefits. The positive impacts of this transition will not just be realized by reduced cost to fleet operators — they will be realized by all. A recent American Lung Association report identified that a complete transition to zero emission trucks by 2050 would save 66,000 lives and generate $735 billion dollars in public health benefits to the country through reduced hospitalizations and deaths. To realize that benefit, we need to get policy frameworks in place which rapidly advance this technology. Those policies exist today and should be prioritized by decision makers.