California’s Electric Truck Mandate Looks to Address Social and Environmental Injustice

By Brentan Alexander, PhD; Chief Science Officer & Chief Commercial Officer, New Energy Risk

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For those fighting climate change, electric cars are often seen as an impactful (and conspicuous) choice to move away from fossil fuels. Tax credits at the federal level and further incentives in many states have helped make Tesla a household name. Competitors new and old, including Rivian and Ford, have announced new electric vehicles for the consumer market in an effort to keep up. Trucks, however, produce far higher levels of harmful pollutants and CO 2, and their impact is felt more acutely in minority communities. These facts have led policymakers in California to once again show leadership on environmental and social justice: By 2045, every new truck sold in California must be zero-emissions.

Trucks represent just under 7% of vehicles in California, but the California Air Resources Board (CARB) reports that truck emissions make up a disproportionate 70% of statewide smog-causing NO x and 80% of cancer-causing soot from the vehicle sector. This is true even though California has some of the world’s strictest emissions regulations for medium and heavy duty trucks, such as the state’s clean idle requirements.

Truck pollution impacts are also not evenly distributed. Medium- and heavy-duty truck traffic is heavily concentrated in major arterials, ports, and logistic centers, which tend to be in closer proximity to low-income neighborhoods. The health impacts on minority communities, particularly the hispanic and black communities, is well documented. One Google-run study performed with the support of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), found that pollution levels in a historically black community near the Port of Oakland fluctuated by many multiples over just a couple of blocks, with levels significantly higher near highways and major thoroughfares.

A transition to zero-emission trucks provides a unique opportunity to help right multiple wrongs at once. Climate change is slowed through the reduction in CO 2 emissions, smog is reduced through a drop in NO x, cancer is reduced by lowering soot in the air, and the benefits flow most heavily to traditionally marginalized populations. It’s climate justice, environmental justice, and social justice all wrapped up in one.

The major players are lining up to support the change. Utilities up and down the west coast are planning charging infrastructure to support electric trucks, legacy semi-truck manufacturers are getting in the electric game, and new entrant Nikola is watching its stock price soar.

There will likely be the same tired lawsuits and bad-faith arguments about increased costs for consumers. Some may present the negative environmental impacts of battery manufacturing (which are legitimate, but much smaller by comparison). The Golden State, however, refuses to ignore the real costs of pollution and global warming that are paid inordinately by minority communities. As has been the case for decades, California is once again setting the standard for others to follow.

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Originally published at https://newenergyrisk.com on July 6, 2020.

New Energy Risk helps insure technical risk for breakthrough tech to optimize cost of capital, accelerate time to market, and provide certainty of execution.

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