Do Californians Dream Of Electric Trucks?
California regulators are fixing to issue the nation's most ambitious mandate to replace diesel trucks with electric vehicles, with a regulation that would require half of trucks sold in the state be zero-emission by 2035, and all new trucks to have zero emissions by 2045. The move is expected to push technology development and clean the air, not to mention helping the state reach its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2030.
Not surprisingly, the oil and trucking industries oppose it because just pumping out filth has been profitable up until now, and who cares about a planet that's habitable by our descendants when there's a third-quarter profit goal to meet? Besides, COVID-19 has already been bad for business and now you want trucks to not make low-income areas hell to live in?
The push for clean trucks isn't just part of the fight against global warning; in California, moving away from reliance on diesel is literally a quality of life issue since trucking is essential to the tech industry. As the New York Times notes,
On one freeway in the Inland Empire region of Southern California, near the largest concentration of Amazon warehouses in the country, a community group recently counted almost 1,200 delivery trucks go by in one hour. [...]
Transportation makes up 40 percent of California's greenhouse gas emissions, and is a major contributor to smog-causing nitrogen oxides and diesel particulate matter pollution, which are linked to health problems including respiratory conditions. Of those transportation sector emissions, as much as 70 percent of smog-causing pollution and 80 percent of particulate matter are from diesel trucks, even though they make up just 7 percent of the 30 million vehicles registered in California.
California's Air Resources Board estimates that currently, particulates from diesel engines "increase statewide cancer risk by 520 cancers per million residents" along with killing people via heart disease and hospitalizing people for asthma and other heart and lung diseases. Getting diesel trucks off the road could result in
at least $9 billion in public health benefits. California also estimates that the rule will lower the state's carbon dioxide emissions by 17 million metric tons, roughly the same amount as pollution from burning almost 100,000 rail cars' worth of coal, and save truck operators $6 billion in fuel costs.
Yeah, yeah, those fuel savings come after they've sunk a load of money into new fleets. But it has to be done, and also just think of all the manufacturing jobs, plus the long-term benefits of a population that isn't dying from dirty air.
That truck survey in the Inland Empire was conducted by the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, whose president, Anthony Victoria, points out that with over 20,000 trucks driving around the area on the busiest days, "Children oftentimes can't play outside on certain days because the air quality is so bad," and not even the coronavirus has led to less traffic, since more people are ordering stuff online now. The Times also notes that in 2018, the area
exceeded federal smog standards for almost 90 days straight. In its latest assessment, the American Lung Association warned residents of wider San Bernardino county: "The air you breathe may put your health at risk."
The new rules would set clean-vehicle requirements for all categories of commercial trucks, from highway-going big rigs to local delivery trucks. The percentage of zero-emissions trucks sold would be required to increase each year until it reaches 100 percent in 2045. California has already committed to purchasing only electric buses for public transit systems by 2029, with a goal of making all public buses electric by 2040.
And California hopes to be at the center of clean-vehicle manufacturing, too; electric truck builder Rivian will be expanding its operations in California, shifting its product development team from Michigan. Last fall, Amazon ordered 100,000 electric delivery vans from Rivian, with the first units expected to hit the road in 2021, 10,000 in service by the end of 2022, and the full fleet on the road by 2030. Unless Donald Trump is reelected and requires Amazon to switch its entire delivery fleet to coal.
And yes, there really are electric big rigs currently being developed; this NPR story lets you hear one, sort of, because it makes virtually no sound at all.
For Crom's sake, get some of those great big trucks to the White House so Donald Trump can pretend he's driving one. "It doesn't make any noise at all! Who would believe it? Next it'll be invisible like the stealth fighter!"
One of the tricks in getting to an electric vehicle future, of course, will be making charging easier, and for a look at the challenges and opportunities involved there, see this article on the House's latest infrastructure bill, which would provide $1.75 billion over five years to build public electric vehicle charging stations. It's a circular problem: Consumers would buy more electric vehicles if there were more options to charge them while traveling. BUT companies are reluctant to invest in charging infrastructure because there isn't enough demand yet. The good news? Build public charging infrastructure, and people will use it: "After Kansas City built 1,000 charging stations, there was a subsequent increase in electric vehicles, from 80 to at least 5,000."
The relatively small amount of funding in the infrastructure bill amounts only to a pilot program; it would pay for about 7,000 new fast-charge stations to supplement the 14,000 charging stations that currently exist. (Tesla's nearly 2000 "Supercharger" stations only work for Tesla cars, also too.) What we really need is more like 300,000 to 1.6 million of 'em (for a fleet of 50 million EVs in the US) by 2030 to meet decarbonization goals. Hell yes, it's daunting, but it would also create jobs and economic growth, plus the nice benefit of keeping the planet habitable for big mammals who drive cars and trucks.
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