Dear Maryland: It’s Time To Drive Clean Trucks & Buses

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I love living in Maryland. We’re living in a historical moment, and I can’t help but do a lil’ happy dance around the possibilities of the new administration and the groundwork laid by the Climate Solutions Now Act which set some of the most ambitious climate targets in the country. Amid all this I’m grateful that part of my job is to spend my time advocating for how it can make these goals a reality — to transform the way we move people and goods towards a sustainable and equitable future.

Clearing the air on clean air

Every soul walking this earth deserves to breathe clean air, and folks in Maryland are no exception. Still though, counties across the state have air that hasn’t met the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) standards for decades, causing a host of public health problems from asthma and cardiovascular issues to premature death. With COVID-19 still on our minds, I can’t stop paying attention to what it means to breathe freely.

Much of this air pollution comes from diesel trucks rumbling along the state’s many highway corridors, in particular I-95 which connects many major cities along the East Coast. This all makes Maryland one of the deadliest states for diesel particulate pollution. What’s worse, these air pollution impacts fall hardest on communities of color across the state, following decades of racist policies and practices that have brought them closer to traffic corridors.

Map of diesel particulate pollution in Maryland (Kevin Shen/UCS)

Climate change in Maryland is no joke either

Sometimes when I’m frustrated about climate legislation that isn’t moving forward fast enough in Annapolis I think about how ironic it is that more and more frequently, floodwaters will be knocking on legislators’ doors. Maybe if session happened during hurricane season, then they would internalize the point more, but I digress….

Climate change is not some abstract existential global problem; it is already impacting Marylanders in clear ways. From more and more days of killer heat, to increased flooding and severe storms, to sea level rise, to ecosystem impacts in the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland has a huge stake in the climate. What we don’t avoid by reducing global warming emissions, we’ll have to make up for in climate resilience measures.

Transportation is the biggest source of global warming emissions in the state, and trucks and buses are some of the heaviest polluters. Though medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses make up only nine percent of the state’s 4.2 million registered vehicles, they contribute 39 percent of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, 48 percent of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), and 21 percent of climate-changing emissions from all on-road vehicles in the state.

Electric trucks are ready for work

We’ll need to tackle these issues from many fronts, and one promising avenue is electrifying our trucks and buses. By replacing the thunderous diesel combustion engine with a quiet electric powertrain, electric trucks can reduce smog, soot, and global warming emissions significantly, no matter where you are in the country.

There are currently over 100 models of electric trucks available or coming in the next two years in the US, made by over 40 manufacturers. These range from pickup trucks just bigger than a Ford F-150 to delivery vans, yard hostlers, day cabs, and even long-haul. You may have heard this before, but I’m telling you, driving them in real life can really change your perspective! I had the chance to drive an electrified cargo van and see many other electric models mentioned above at a conference last year.

Can the grid handle it? The short answer is yes. Electric cars, trucks, and buses can also help boost grid resilience and benefit all utility customers with lower rates. What about charging infrastructure? Most trucks will be able to charge at depots during off-times, and fleets can work with their utility to meet the needs of their routes and vehicles while public charging options continue to grow. It’s no question that building this infrastructure is feasible — what we need to do now is to start preparing for the transition.

The lane is open for clean truck policies

This legislative session, there are a suite of potential policies to jumpstart the clean truck transition in Maryland. I want to highlight the Clean Trucks Act of 2023, which would require the state to join seven others in adopting the Advanced Clean Truck rule, which would require manufacturers to sell an increasing percentage of electric trucks every year.

This feasible and commonsense regulation would result in 46.45 million metric tons of reduced greenhouse gas emissions through to 2050. Based on my analysis of data from the International Council on Clean Transportation, the ACT and additional Low-NOx Omnibus rules would bring over $2.2 billion in public health benefits to Maryland from 2020-2050, by avoiding over 314 hospital admissions and emergency room visits, 370 premature deaths, and more than 150,000 cases of respiratory illnesses like asthma. The benefits of these rules are sure to touch many of our lives.

So, how can you get involved? The first step is to contact your legislator about your support for the Clean Trucks Act of 2023. If the bill passes, then there will be more voices needed throughout the regulatory process to ensure that the Department of the Environment does everything possible to create a strong rule.

Policies like the Advanced Clean Truck rule can help protect our planet, allow us to breathe freely, and make economic sense through investing in our future. We owe this to our community both in the present and for generations to come.

Originally published by the Union of Concerned Scientists, The Equation. By Kevin X. Shen


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