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Future of Transportation

Electric Trucks Are Good for the Climate as Well as Their Drivers

The trucking industry is vital to the U.S. economy but disastrous to the earth’s climate, which is why the industry must shift to more sustainable vehicles and equitable hiring practices.

More than ever, truck drivers are critical to our economy. More than 3.5 million dedicated drivers take to the roads each year, delivering essential goods to communities across the nation. The trucking industry hauled 72.5 percent of all freight transported in the United States in 2019, equating to 11.84 billion tons.

While fundamental to our economy, diesel trucks are also in service much longer than most passenger vehicles and these heavy-duty trucks are considered the largest mobile source of nitrogen oxide, a pollutant linked to heart and lung disease. Moving goods throughout our nation is an essential service, but it can be done cleaner, healthier, and more equitably with broad adoption of electric trucks.

Electric avenue

Electric trucks charged on any power grid in the United States are better for the climate than any diesel truck, according to an analysis released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The UCS analysis found that there are many trucks whose operating characteristics are well suited for electrification. Two-thirds of U.S. trucks travel 20,000 miles or less each year — an average of 80 miles per day if driven five days per week and 50 weeks per year — well within the operating range of battery electric trucks operating on a single charge.

In another bold move to tackle climate change, California recently passed the “Advanced Clean Trucks” (ACT) regulation, requiring automakers to sell more electric trucks starting in 2024, which is estimated to put 300K electric trucks on the road by 2035. Truck electrification in California has the potential to add more than $100 billion to California’s gross state product through 2050 and can support thousands of family-sustaining, good jobs in manufacturing and construction with the right policy incentives in place.

Heavily trafficked areas like California’s 710 highway, disproportionately bear the effects of diesel truck pollution. Low-income communities and communities of color situated next to these truck routes are both more vulnerable to pollution-induced lung diseases and more endangered by COVID-19. This is still a problem especially in places like California’s South Coast Air Basin which is still plagued by some of the worst air in the nation, and diesel truck pollution is the leading cause of the problem.

Workers rights

During National Truck Driver Appreciation Week, we must also recognize that truck drivers in some sectors of the industry are among the most exploited workers in the United States. Drivers are often victims of “misclassification,” in which employers avoid paying taxes, wages, and benefits by classifying drivers as independent contractors. This practice is rampant in port trucking, and segments of package delivery and long-haul trucking. From an environmental and equity perspective, misclassification makes it harder for drivers to upgrade to cleaner trucks, burdens them with compliance costs, and leaves the parent company off the hook. We can move to electric trucks in a way that ensures drivers earn a living wage, while creating more good jobs in the burgeoning electric truck market, from drivers to electricians to factory workers.

But this won’t happen unless we use our public spending to support companies that treat their workers fairly and manufacture and assemble the vehicles, batteries, and charging equipment in the United States. With the right policy and support, electric truck and trucking companies will create high-paying jobs with good benefits, utilize skill certifications, hire disadvantaged workers, and respect the right to join a union.

According to the California Air Resources Board, there are more than 70 different models of zero-emission vans, trucks, and buses that already are commercially available from several manufacturers. Most trucks and vans operate less than 100 miles per day and several zero-emission configurations are available to serve that need. As technology advances, zero-emission trucks will become suitable for more applications. Most major truck manufacturers have announced plans to introduce market-ready zero-emission trucks in the near future. 

Now is the time to plug into electric trucks across our nation to create high-quality jobs, reduce pollution, and improve the health of all the communities the trucking industry serves.

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