NJ Joins Multistate Deal to Transition to Zero-Emission Trucks and Buses by 2050

Tom Johnson | July 15, 2020 | Energy & Environment
First collaborative effort to address medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, which account for one-quarter of state’s greenhouse gas emissions from transportation sector
Credit: F. Muhammad from Pixabay
Environmental advocates have long argued for a faster transition to zero-emission trucks and electric buses.

In a significant step aimed at expediting the electrification of the transportation sector, 15 states, including New Jersey, have agreed to work together to deploy far more electric medium- and heavy-duty vehicles on their roads.The joint memorandum of understanding among the states and the District of Columbia envisions developing a plan with the goal of ensuring 100% of new medium- and heavy-duty trucks — including large pickup trucks, box trucks, school and transit buses, and long-haul delivery rigs — be zero-emission vehicles by 2050.

New Jersey, and many of the other states involved in the agreement, already has pledged to abide by California’s clean-car program that mandates a shift to electric light-duty cars. But their announcement Tuesday marks the first collaborative effort to transition to zero-emission trucks and buses. Only 4% of the vehicles on the road, trucks and buses account for one-quarter of greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.

“Moving forward with electrifying heavy-duty trucks is really a turning point in this country,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “It is important that New Jersey is stepping up when it comes to zero-emission trucks because our state has a serious problem with air pollution.’’

Heavy-duty diesel trucks and buses also account for a major source of harmful smog-forming pollution, particulate matter and air toxins, particularly in densely populated urban areas and low-income communities. Advocates have long argued for a faster transition to electric buses and zero-emission trucks in those communities.

The collaborative effort to speed up the transition to zero-emission vehicles in the trucking industry follows last week’s request by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority seeking how best to electrify medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, recommendations that will likely influence how the agency allocates funds to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop announced a plan to convert the city’s garbage trucks to electric vehicles as well as beginning to convert a portion of its police fleet to zero-emission vehicles.

Growing investment

This push reflects a growing investment by the industry in zero-emission vehicle technology for the medium- and heavy-duty sector. At least 70 electric truck and bus models are on the market, and manufacturers are expected to make many more new models commercially available over the next decade.

Still, the goals announced in the states’ agreement are not easily achieved. By 2030, at least 30% of sales of zero-emission vehicles should include medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. That will probably preclude many long-haul trucks where the technology to convert to zero-emission vehicles is not as far advanced.

“It is going to take a lot of focus and political will to get us there,’’ acknowledged Pam Frank, CEO of ChargEVC, a coalition pushing for electric cars in the light-duty sector. “But I don’t think we have a choice.’’

Gov. Phil Murphy said the action is an important component of the administration’s clean-energy goals. “To reach our clean energy goals and beat back the effects of climate change, we must rapidly electrify our transportation system by supporting the adoption of electric vehicle use in every sector of our economy,’’ the governor said in a statement.

To provide a framework and help coordinate state efforts to meet those goals, the states will work with the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM) to develop and implement a ZEV (zero-emission vehicle) action plan for trucks and buses.

Charging, fueling infrastructure

That means promoting and investing in electric trucks and buses and building the charging and fueling infrastructure needed to serve these vehicles. In some cases, such as with cargo vehicles, the state might be able to use some of the charging infrastructure already built in New Jersey to serve cars and light-duty vehicles, according to Peg Hanna, an assistant director in air programs for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“When we get to the heavy-duty trucks, they will need their own charging infrastructure,” Hanna said. There are approximately 500,000 medium- and heavy-duty trucks registered in New Jersey, she said.

Besides New Jersey, other states that joined the agreement include California, Connecticut, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Within six months, NESCAUM is supposed to develop an action plan to promote the transition to electric trucks and buses. That plan includes options like adopting the recent California clean-truck plan, developing incentives to switch to electric buses and trucks; and ways to convert public transit and other fleets of medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses to zero-emission vehicles.

“The electric revolution is going to happen earlier than many people expected,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.