Op-Ed: Need for clean-truck rule is immediate

Coalition of business, health and environmental groups urges quick adoption in NJ of rule hastening switch to electric vehicles
Renée Pollard and Bill Beren

Communities across New Jersey are suffering from respiratory diseases and other health impacts because of dangerously high levels of air pollution. Most of our counties have failing levels of ozone and particulate matter, both of which are emitted in large amounts by diesel trucks. This pollution increases the incidence of asthma, heart disease, heart attacks, cancers, chronic lung diseases and premature deaths, with a disproportionate impact on communities of color. One out of every four children in Newark has asthma, a rate three times the national average. Trenton has four times more asthma-related emergency room visits than the state average.

There is a critical need for improving air quality and meeting our climate targets in New Jersey. Not only does diesel pollution directly impact the health of our communities, but it also contributes to climate-related impacts. Extreme heat can lead to heat-related illness or make existing health conditions worse. Storms and sea-level rise lead to flooding, impacting some of our most vulnerable communities.

That is why we are part of a diverse coalition of environmental, business, public health, and environmental justice advocates urging the administration of Gov. Phil Murphy to quickly adopt the Advanced Clean Trucks rule, which would deliver zero-emission trucks to New Jersey, helping to slash dirty diesel emissions, improve air quality and build healthier and safer communities for all. This rule would work by requiring manufacturers to sell and deliver pollution-free electric trucks to New Jersey beginning in 2025 with 100% new zero-emission trucks sales by 2045.

Studies have shown the health benefits that our communities will see once the ACT rule is adopted. There will be less air pollution and less noise pollution, especially in places like Newark where we see thousands of trucks travel every day. We need to implement the ACT rule quickly to see these benefits as soon as possible.

No ‘sacrifice zones’ for freight industry

Some opponents have argued against New Jersey adopting the ACT rule. This commentary revolves around the false notion that the  rule prevents the trucking industry from taking immediate steps to implement anti-pollution technology. These arguments fail to mention that the rule would deliver significant climate and public health benefits, and obscure statistics to downplay the real impacts our communities feel. High-ozone days mean our children can’t play outside and our grandparents must stay indoors due to potential health risks. That is not acceptable. New Jersey has an opportunity — and a responsibility — to pursue a different path forward, where none of our communities are sacrifice zones for the freight industry.

In every state that is considering the ACT rule we have seen fossil-fuel interests selling an erroneous narrative about the feasibility of transitioning to electric trucks. But then why are large companies that own truck fleets in New Jersey supportive of the ACT rule and its timeline? Companies like Microsoft, eBay, Ben & Jerry’s, Ikea, Nestle, Unilever, and Lyft have supported the ACT rule in multiple states and have called on the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to adopt it. Electric trucks are coming, and they’re coming a lot quicker than fallacious claims by diesel groups would have you believe.

The good news about electric vehicles is that, as we deploy more renewable sources, these vehicles get even cleaner. The Murphy administration has committed New Jersey to 100% clean energy by 2050, our largest utility is aiming for 100% net-zero electricity by 2030, and President Joe Biden has proposed a 100% Clean Electricity Standard by 2035. This means that most of our electric charging stations will be powered solely by renewable energy sources within years, not decades.

Putting more polluting trucks on our roads is not a solution and will postpone the transition to electric trucks by decades. Transitioning to electric trucks now will help reduce pollution immediately, and the trucks will continue to get cleaner as we expand our use of renewable energy. We need clean trucks on our roads today so that our communities can breathe cleaner air and our state can address our most polluting sector.

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