State OKs $16M program to replace dirty diesel trucks with electric vehicles

Pilot program’s first phase provides 300 vouchers to businesses, other institutions in Newark and Camden to help ease pollution in environmental-justice communities
Credit: National Renewable Energy Lab via Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
A heavy-duty electric truck could be coming to Newark and Camden thanks to new EDA program.

In what is shaping up as its first concrete step to substitute electric trucks for dirty diesel vehicles in New Jersey, the state is launching a pilot program to offer vouchers to purchase medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles.

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority approved a $15.7 million program at its meeting Friday to set up a pilot program to provide up to 300 vouchers to businesses and institutional organizations in and around Newark and Camden to buy zero-emission trucks.

The initiative aligns with the Murphy administration’s goals for clean energy and climate by targeting the single largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions, as well as the primary source of air pollution in densely populated urban areas.

“This is a critical step toward our environmental-justice initiatives that I hope will spark widespread adoption of zero-emission vehicles across the state,’’ said Gov. Phil Murphy. Funding for the program comes out of money raised by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a program that clamps down on emissions from power plants, but is widely opposed by most environmental-justice advocates.

The pilot program is modeled after voucher programs already established in New York and a handful of other states, all of which are targeting pollution from diesel trucks, particularly in urban areas suffering from a disproportionate amount of air pollution. It also borrows from a popular New Jersey program that now offers motorists rebates to buy more expensive light-duty zero-emission vehicles.

“The adoption of zero emission vehicles will reduce dangerous emissions within the greater Newark and Camden communities and drive future economic growth by creating jobs critical to supporting and acceleration of these vehicles,’’ said EDA CEO Tim Sullivan.

Vouchers: $25,000 to $100,000

The pilot program would fund vouchers to purchase specified medium-duty vehicles, ranging from pickup trucks and box trucks to hotel shuttles. The size of the vouchers will range from $25,000 to $100,000, depending on the class of vehicle being purchased. Approximately one-third of the money will be set aside for small businesses.

New Jersey has ambitious goals to electrify its transportation system through a variety of laws and programs. By 2025, it has committed to getting 330,000 zero-emission vehicles on the road. Under an agreement it signed last year, the state aims to have 30% of new truck purchases being electric by 2030.

Nevertheless, the state recently balked at joining another regional initiative geared to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions — this time from the transportation sector. That plan would have increased gasoline taxes by about 5 cents per gallon to fund a clean-energy initiative similar to the RGGI program.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Environmental Protection is expected to publish this spring new rules clamping down on pollution from medium-duty and heavy-duty vehicles, a step seen as accelerating the conversion to electric vehicles.

“Diesel trucks are about 10 times dirtier than gasoline cars due to the high levels of toxic pollutants they emit,’’ said Hayley Berliner, clean-energy associate with Environment New Jersey. “For this reason, it is crucial that we prioritize electrifying dirty diesel trucks, especially in environmental-justice communities.’’

“This is a step in the right direction,’’ 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.’’

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