The Job is Not Done: It Is Time for EPA to Deliver on Clean Trucks Now

NRDC is a member of the Moving Forward Network and we are working together to secure strong federal-level actions across the freight sector including the advancement of zero emission freight vehicles.

This blog was co-authored with Molly Greenberg of the Moving Forward Network.

The global transportation system is undergoing an historic transformation in transitioning to zero-emission vehicles. To bring the economic, public health, and environmental benefits of this transition to the U.S. and maximize federal investment incentives clean cars and trucks, the Biden Administration must fully leverage the moment. President Biden and EPA Administrator Michael Regan must finalize a strong vehicle emission standard for heavy-duty vehicles that puts the nation on a path to all new trucks being zero emissions by 2035.

EPA has said it will be issuing new tailpipe emissions standards for trucks soon. In order to deliver the pollution reductions necessary for communities near highways, ports and warehouses and address the climate crisis, these rules must:

  • Set a stringent vehicle emissions standard that will put us on the path to all new trucks being zero emissions by 2035 (which could be further strengthened through complementary zero-emission vehicle sales policies),
  • Consider environmental justice impacts and priorities from “source to tailpipe to grave,” by structuring the rule so that only the cleanest vehicles are incentivized and that reductions of other health-harming pollutants can occur, in addition to greenhouse gases.

Last year, EPA had a prime opportunity to finalize strong standards to reduce the amount of health-harming and smog-forming pollutants emitted by heavy-duty gasoline and diesel engines – like large trucks and school and transit buses. Ultimately, the final rule fell short, largely due to a well-orchestrated lobbying effort by truck manufacturers and other critics of heavy-duty vehicle emission standards. 


There's Much More to be Done on Clean Trucks

Fortunately, the clean trucks rule finalized by the agency last year was only the first step in the Biden Administrations’ three-pronged Clean Trucks Plan, so they have another bite at the apple.

This time, it is important the agency finalize a robust, strong rule that responds to the calls of freight-impacted communities by putting the trucking industry on a path to zero emissions. In fact, this request – which was initiated by frontline and fenceline communities –  was reiterated by members of the Moving Forward Network in a visit to Washington, D.C. to meet with Administrator Regan and lawmakers in Congress. During this visit, MFN members delivered thousands of petitions to EPA calling for action on freight emissions and boldly communicated that any regulation falling short of this would be unacceptable, as it would fail to reflect the reality many freight-impacted communities face today.

Phase 2 Greenhouse Gas Rule

The agency must revisit and tighten the “Phase 2” GHG emissions standard that it punted on last year and set strong emissions standards for medium-duty commercial vehicles (like delivery trucks) in the agency's light- and medium- duty rulemaking. It is important that the agency do this as swiftly as possible to avoid delaying these lifesaving emissions reductions and avoid allowing key critics to undermine the agency’s efforts to finalize a strong rule. 

Setting the Record Straight on Clean Truck Standards

Key critics of EPA’s last round of truck standards continue to claim that strong truck regulations disrupt sales and have several negative implications to workers, small businesses, and to the prices of consumers goods. But an independent market analysis conducted last year to evaluate these claims found that past truck pollution standards did not significantly impact vehicle sales, production, or employment, and dispelled more than 15 years of claims by critics of such regulations. In fact, the study found that the pace of trucks sales is closely tied to the U.S. economy and larger macroeconomic issues at play, and not regulations. The study also observed that truck sales appeared to be a leading indicator of recessions, since companies reduce their spending and investments (including capital expenditures like trucks) well before an official recession period begins. These observations are illustrated below.

For more on this, check out our joint blog with Sierra Club that sets the record straight and breaks down the findings of this analysis.

Strong truck emission standards also make good economic sense for manufacturers and suppliers, and better position them and fleet operators to take advantage of the benefits of electrification as this sector moves to zero out emissions. Fleet owners would benefit through long-term savings on fuel and maintenance costs and the economy will see new jobs added. In fact, according to E2’s Clean Jobs America 2022 report, clean energy and clean transportation jobs grew by more than 5% in 2021, with electric vehicle manufacturing jobs leading the way. The economic signals are already making a strong case for truck electrification, but federal policies like strong clean car and truck standards will be necessary to ensure we realize our nation’s climate and environmental justice commitments. 

We Need to Fully Leverage the Historic Investments from Congress 

With the investments from the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we can go even further, faster since policy measures like these laws (which included tax incentives and rebates) play a significant role in encouraging more consumers to make the switch to new or used electric vehicles. 

In particular, the signing of the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law together make approximately $245 billion of federal investments available for electric vehicles, batteries, and charging stations. And these investments include a number of provisions to help speed the transition to clean trucks, including tax incentives to help defray the upfront costs of transitioning commercial gas-powered heavy-duty trucks to zero emissions trucks; and funding several programs within EPA and DOE to reduce emissions from ports, address local air pollution, and to invest in domestic manufacturing to grow the domestic supply for clean heavy-duty vehicles. 

And it is not just about the vehicles, either. The Inflation Reduction Act complements the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s $7.5 billion in investments to build out a nationwide network of the charging infrastructure necessary to meet the needs of the EVs coming on the roads. So, we need to feed off this momentum and put strong standards in place, especially as automakers continue to go all in on electrification. It’s up to the Biden Administration and EPA Administrator Regan to finish the job by setting strong standards that create a clear pathway to zero emissions and ensures a future in which the cleanest vehicles can proliferate.

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