Op-Ed: NJ must make its own road to all-electric trucks, not just follow California’s path

California’s scheme is often seen as a blueprint for NJ’s future, but it could reduce viable options and slow the transition to zero-emission vehicles
Allen Schaeffer

Much has been made in New Jersey of a California-dictated all-electric-truck future, but this approach could actually delay progress and ignore faster, cheaper and smarter ways to reduce emissions.

There is no question that zero-emission commercial vehicles are coming. Electrification of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles is promising but at a very nascent stage, with many financial and other challenges. It will also take many years for commercialization and buildout of charging or fueling infrastructure and grid capacity. Manufacturers need a national approach to this to ensure the greatest chance of success of this transition — not California’s Advanced Clean Trucks Rule.

California and New Jersey are very different places. California exceeded the ozone standard on 157 days last year; New Jersey, on just 20 days. New Jersey’s commercial-truck fleet is about one-quarter the size of California’s. Buying into California’s truck rules will reduce the number of choices for New Jersey truckers to select the vehicles that work for them, effectively giving California the power to dictate the mix of available trucks for New Jersey businesses. The state loses some autonomy in not making its own truck environmental-policy decisions, ceding much to California. What’s more, it effectively diminishes consideration of other options that could reduce greenhouse-gas emissions faster, like the use of low-carbon bio-based fuels that can reduce greenhouse gas and other emissions by 50% to 80% and can be used in all diesel vehicles right now.

Today 55% of New Jersey’s electricity that would power electric trucks comes from natural gas, with 36% coming from nuclear and some coming from the mid-Atlantic grid, which includes coal, with renewables (solar) at just 5%. Offshore wind development is on the drawing board, but the initial phase is not expected to be delivered until 2030, and then will supply only a fraction of the state’s energy demands. So in 10 years it is likely that electric trucks will be mostly powered by natural gas. Even if the most optimistic of all policy, funding, technology and infrastructure scenarios fall into place, the time frame for zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles to make up a majority percentage of the commercial trucks on New Jersey roads and streets is going to be measured in decades, not years.

Let’s consider what we can do now rather than just hope what the future might be. Today, in New Jersey, 48% of all commercial diesel trucks on the road are 2011 and newer, which means they all have particulate filters, selective catalytic reduction technology and are near zero emissions; it also means that 52% are of an older generation. Transitioning the oldest and highest-emitting trucks operating in and around ports and disadvantaged communities to near-zero-emissions technology that is available right now will ensure faster and more affordable progress on reducing local ozone and particulate and greenhouse-gas emissions. Past programs to encourage replacement of older diesel trucks with new-generation ones were successful but underfunded.

Climate change is not a one-dimensional problem. Why do some see electrification or adopting everything California has done as the one-dimensional solution?

Most would agree we need more solutions to reducing greenhouse gases, not fewer. Until then, real progress on cleaner air and lowering greenhouse-gas emissions won’t come magically from trying to be the “California of the East” or from words that endorse and urge faster electrification. Working together on impactful steps — both rules and incentives — to get the oldest trucks off the road in the next few years, using more renewable bio-based fuels, and adopting ZEVs as available guided by the judgment of local businesses and local policymakers in New Jersey, not California, is the best way forward.

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