NJ to truck fleets: Time to go all green

New rule would require zero-emission vehicles for medium- and heavy-duty commercial trucks. It’s likely to face a massive fight
Credit: (David Goldman/AP Images for Frito-Lay, File)
File photo: A Frito-Lay employee charges an all-electric delivery truck.

With the goal of improving air quality and reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, New Jersey has proposed a requirement for owners of commercial fleets to start purchasing and using zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty trucks.

The proposal could lead New Jersey to adopting essentially California’s Advanced Clean Truck program, a first-of-its-kind regulation designed to transition delivery trucks, box trucks and the biggest rigs, which move most of the goods on its roads, to electric vehicles.

The state Department of Environmental Protection proposal, published Monday in the New Jersey Register, was welcomed by clean-energy advocates who said the rule, if adopted, would help achieve aggressive goals to reduce climate pollution, and curb noxious diesel emissions that threaten the health of residents in heavily trafficked areas, most notably in urban communities already suffering from unfair pollution burdens.

It has been a persistent complaint in some urban areas like Newark, where activists point to the hundreds of diesel-spewing trucks moving through their neighborhoods. There have been some small steps by the state of address the problem.

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But the proposal is likely to be strongly opposed by manufacturers of the trucks, who have argued the plan ramps up the switch to electric vehicles when the technology for zero-emission vehicles has yet to reach the stage for mass adoption for a fleet of trucks. Others question whether the charging infrastructure exists to refuel the vehicles.

The California rule was adopted in June 2020 despite much opposition from manufacturers and other business interests. Under the rule, the percentage of electric trucks that must be sold would gradually increase yearly. In California, beginning with model year 2045, every new truck sold in the state must be a zero-emission vehicle. It is not expected those time frames will apply to New Jersey, which is starting behind California.

The proposal will require manufacturers of medium- and heavy-duty trucks to participate in a credit/deficit program to increase sales of zero-emission (ZEV) trucks. It creates an accounting system that would require manufacturers to offset emissions from conventional trucks by the sales of ZEVs or near-zero-emission vehicles (NZEVs).

Positive economic impact?

In its rule proposal, the department argued the program would have a positive economic impact even though it would increase compliance costs. At the same time, however, net savings would result from decreased fuel consumption, lower maintenance costs, and avoided costs from estimating the social cost of carbon, which include improvements in human health associated with less pollution.

“It’s the health impact that means less pollution is the part that particularly excites us,’’ said Hayley Berliner, clean-energy associate of Environment New Jersey, noting the rule will not only curb greenhouse-gas emissions, but other pollutants like fine particulates that endanger urban communities.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, agreed. “This is a big rule — if we can get it implemented,’’ he said, recognizing the expected opposition. “The goals are admirable but it does not give us the standards and blueprint for how we get there.’’

Ray Cantor, a vice president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said his organization is supportive of goals to transition to electric vehicles, but calls the proposal premature.

The argument against

“We are really jumping into something without knowing what it means to New Jersey,’’ Cantor said. There is no mention of how the state is going to finance the program, particularly the charging stations to refuel the big trucks when they are crisscrossing the state and other parts of the region.

“No one is objecting to the ultimate goal,’’ he said. “We don’t think it is just right for New Jersey at this time,’’ he said.

The rule proposal also includes a one-time reporting requirement for operators of fleets of medium- and heavy-duty trucks to give state officials information about the operation of their fleets — a measure that policymakers say could inform decisions on new rulemaking governing how to reduce climate change.

This is not the first time New Jersey has followed California’s lead. It is among 14 states that have opted to adopt California’s clean-car program. That program is aimed at encouraging states to transition to electric passenger cars.

READ: NJ joins multistate deal to transition to zero-emission trucks and buses by 2050