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Clean Transport

Clearing The Air With New Truck Regulations

Originally published on the NRDC Expert Blog.
By Shelby ParksPatricio Portillo 

The trucking industry has an outsized impact on toxic air pollution and carbon emissions. Luckily, states can now adopt two new regulations to address the issue: the Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) rule, which ensures more zero-emission, electric trucks are sold each year, and the Heavy-Duty Omnibus (HDO) rule, which cuts toxic air pollution from new fossil fuel trucks.

The rules will bring big economic, environmental, and health benefits to states that choose to adopt them. However, transformational regulations always come with some uncertainty and misinformation. To inform states’ decision making, let’s clear the air and dispel the myths surrounding the two rules.

What are the rules’ timelines and are they feasible?

The Advanced Clean Trucks rule starts two years after it’s adopted, giving manufacturers and the market time to prepare. The annual new sales requirements start low and ramp up gradually. As the chart below shows, by model year 2026, the measure would require 10–13% of all new medium- and heavy-duty truck sales to be fossil fuel free. Model availability is slowly expanding. During the rule’s moderate buildup, new types of electric trucks and buses will enter the market.

Model Availability Growth. ZETI Analytics — CALSTART Drive to Zero Program.

The Heavy-Duty Omnibus rule follows a similar trajectory. The stronger nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulate matter emission standards for new fossil fuel trucks start in model year 2024 and tighten again in 2027. This will slash ozone-causing NOx pollution from new trucks by 75% in 2024 and 90% in 2027. California spent almost a decade working with industry and emission experts to identify an emission standard that is achievable with current technologies and cost-effective. Some manufacturers are already delivering trucks that meet the 2024 standards, so we know the technology exists to hit these targets.

Both rules have built-in flexibility to help manufacturers manage the new requirements. For example, manufacturers are rewarded with early-action credits for compliant trucks sold before the rules come into effect. And the ACT rule accounts for the fact that electric truck technology is progressing faster for some vehicle classes than for others. Manufacturers can count extra sales from one vehicle type toward meeting the standards for another that might not be immediately suitable for electrification.

Aren’t electric trucks expensive?

Yes and no. The sticker price on an electric truck is currently higher than its diesel counterpart. However, due to big fuel savings and lower maintenance costs over the vehicles’ lifetimes, some electric trucks are competitive on a total cost of ownership basis today. And these upfront costs are declining as battery prices — the single most expensive component — continue to go down. Over the last 10 years, battery costs have dropped a whopping 89% and are still falling.

Fuel and maintenance costs savings paired with smart state policies like purchase incentives, retirement programs for dirty trucks, and rebates for charging stations — which already exist in several states — make the economics of transitioning to electric trucks especially favorable.

States will need to continue building charging infrastructure to support a full transition to an electric truck fleet. But it doesn’t need to happen overnight. And several states are already expanding charging networks to support existing transportation electrification targets. Across the nation, electric utilities are investing hundreds of millions of dollars on charging infrastructure, with an increasing number of truck and bus-specific programs.

Further, adopting the Advanced Clean Truck rule will give states leverage to secure more investments in charging infrastructure, especially higher-power charging stations that many heavy-duty trucks will need. And new infrastructure investments can support good, in-state jobs.

Why make manufacturers sell electric trucks without also requiring fleets to buy them?

Electrify America commercial charger.

Fleets have demonstrated a level of demand on par with the quantity of the ACT rule’s early-year sales. The US Postal Service, Amazon, PepsiCo, and others have already preordered tens of thousands of electric vehicles. What fleet owners need most right now is a reliable and diverse supply of clean trucks.

The clean truck rule will provide that supply and set the foundation for subsequent policies by stimulating the electric vehicle market, justifying new infrastructure investments, and supporting clean energy jobs. Other policies, such as a purchase requirement, will follow, and support requirements as they ramp up in its later stages.

Won’t manufacturers just leave clean truck states to sidestep new requirements?

Truck manufacturers operate in a global market. With China and several European countries strengthening regulations around medium- and heavy-duty vehicle pollution, the ability to produce electric trucks is becoming an increasingly critical asset in the freight industry.

As a result, electric vehicle startups such as Chanje, Arrival, and Rivian have emerged in recent years. Meanwhile, traditional auto giants like Volvo and General Motors are scrambling to get their footing in the landscape of clean trucks. It would be senseless for multinational automakers to abandon an expanding market just to invest exclusively in a dying one.

Why not pursue a national strategy instead of the state-by-state one?

First off, there’s no reason we can’t do both. But importantly, we need emissions reductions now. Fossil fuel trucks spew large amounts of NOx and particulate matter, both of which are toxic to breathe. Harmful pollutants from trucks are often concentrated in communities of color and low-income communities, which have been suffering the consequences of this pollution for decades. States can institute these regulations and improve air quality today.

It’s time for states to opt in.

California will soon finalize the formal implementation process for both rules, giving other states the green light to follow suit (the Clean Air Act permits states to adopt California emissions standards in lieu of federal ones).

Adopting the Advanced Clean Truck and Heavy Duty Omnibus rules will expedite air quality improvements, reduce carbon emissions, and support clean energy jobs in participating states. New Jersey was the first to announce plans to adopt California’s ACT and HDO rules, and the best way for other states to accelerate their transitions to zero-emission fleets is to follow suit.

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NRDC is the nation's most effective environmental action group, combining the grassroots power of 1.3 million members and online activists with the courtroom clout and expertise of more than 350 lawyers, scientists, and other professionals.


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