Fifteen states and Washington, DC have announced that they will follow California’s lead in switching all heavy-duty trucks, vans, and buses over to running on electricity, in what could be one of the most significant efforts to reduce harmful diesel engine pollution in the United States. It could also be a big development in the fight for environmental justice because emissions from diesel-powered commercial vehicles disproportionately harm Black, Asian, and Latinx communities.
The states that signed the agreement along with Washington, DC are: California, Connecticut, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) announced in late June that all commercial trucks and vans must be zero-emission by 2045, with milestones along the way. The state previously announced a rule in 2018 that says transit agencies must purchase all-electric buses starting in 2029.
The phalanx of states and the District of Columbia are agreeing to similar goals, making it so that “100 percent of all new medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sales be zero emission vehicles by 2050, with an interim target of 30 percent zero-emission vehicle sales in these categories of vehicles by 2030,” according to the New York Governor’s Office.
The agreement is not legally binding. But California has long been a leader in pushing clean energy vehicles, dating back to the passenger vehicle initiative it spearheaded in the 1990s that helped bring electric cars to bear in the United States. More than a dozen states already follow California’s lead on zero-emission passenger vehicles.
The state’s role as an emissions standard-bearer has only been elevated during Donald Trump’s tenure as president. Despite the fact that humanity is dealing with a growing climate crisis, Trump has spent three years working to roll back environmental protections and pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord. In March, he rolled back a signature fuel economy standard of Barack Obama’s presidency that was meant to be a cornerstone in the fight against rising global emissions. California responded to the rollback by getting four automakers to agree to steadily increasing standards that are similar to what Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration put in place.
Daimler, Tesla, Volvo, and China’s BYD are all working on electric big rigs, and startups like Chanje, Arrival, Nikola, and Rivian (which is building 100,000 electric delivery vans for Amazon) have electric trucks or vans in the works as well. Electric buses are already on the road thanks to companies like BYD and California’s Proterra.