Op-Ed: Clean Trucks Mean a Cleaner New Jersey

Shelby Parks | September 23, 2021 | Opinion, Energy & Environment
Cleaner air, less respiratory illness, more jobs and greater environmental justice. New Jersey can get there faster thanks to zero-emission trucks and the federal Advanced Clean Truck rule

New Jersey needs a sound and swift solution to its transportation pollution problem. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions in the state and is a major contributor to air pollution. Trucks and buses have an outsized impact on air quality and threaten the health of New Jerseyans every day. The nitrous oxides and particulate matter emitted from large vehicles can cause heart and lung diseases and reduce residents’ lifespans. The solution is a transition to zero-emission trucks and buses. And that transition needs to happen as soon as possible.

The Advanced Clean Truck (ACT) rule is one of the best tools we have to address emissions from trucks and buses. The ACT is flexible and will allow each adopting state to take on a unique mix of zero-emission vehicles. The rule starts out low with small percentages in each vehicle class. The percentages allow the requirement to be rightsized for each state’s medium- and heavy-duty fleet. It then ramps up slowly each year, giving manufacturers time to plan and adapt. What’s more, the rule gives manufacturers the option to produce more vehicles from a lower weight class to satisfy the requirement for producing one vehicle from a higher weight class. Therefore, the market can determine which vehicle types are in high demand and the rule’s flexibility will allow for more of those vehicles to be produced. That way, states like New Jersey won’t have to follow the exact vehicle mix California will have; model availability in New Jersey will be driven by model demand in New Jersey.

New Jersey can adopt ACT now and provide immediate health benefits to its residents while tackling the climate crisis. Due to the structure of the Clean Air Act, New Jersey cannot develop its own standards. Instead, it can either adopt California standards, like the ACT, that are finalized and ready for implementation, or wait for federal standards that are still being developed and nowhere near completion. Through its Global Warming Response Act, the state has developed a target of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions 80% by 2050. New Jersey urgently needs to improve its air quality and doesn’t have time to wait for a federal standard. The ACT rule will help the Garden State meet its goals in a timely manner while bringing immediate health benefits.

Electric trucks and buses are here today. In the wake of Hurricane Ida, in which there were more deaths in New Jersey than in any other state, it is all too clear that intermediate steps, such as alternative fuels, are a bridge to nowhere in the battle against the climate crisis. Putting money into an intermediate solution such as biofuels will only result in sunk costs and missed targets. Also, harvesting biofuels requires repurposing land currently used for food farming or clearing natural landscapes — thus releasing carbon into the atmosphere. A more ecofriendly approach to cleaning up today’s diesel trucks lies in the Heavy-Duty Omnibus (HDO) rule, another California regulation that complements the ACT rule. The HDO rule puts more stringent NOx standards on new fossil-fuel trucks and would help clean up air around freight hubs and trucking corridors, which are often near disadvantaged communities.

The ACT and HDO rules, when adopted together, will bring a slew of health, environment, and employment benefits to New Jersey. The state could have a lot to gain as seen in a recent, independent MJ Bradley report for New York showing savings of $16.3 billion and 335,000 illnesses avoided between now and 2050. New Jersey is likely to see similar benefits. The rules will also attract public and private investments in charging infrastructure. With these investments will come well-paying construction jobs. And these commonsense standards are only the beginning. The state stands to benefit even more if it implements these rules in combination with other supportive policies and programs. For example, upfront vehicle incentives like the NJ ZIP program, utility programs to support medium- and heavy-duty charging and efforts to put more renewables on the grid, such as the newly approved 3,758-megawatt offshore wind projects in New Jersey. California is also working on a purchase requirement to go along with the ACT and HDO rules, which will ensure that the clean vehicles produced are utilized. Adopting all three rules will put New Jersey on the road to cleaner air and healthier residents.

New Jersey should adopt these rules by the end of the year. If not, thousands of new dirty trucks will be added to the state’s roads over the next five years and will add to pollution for decades to come.

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