The Biden administration today announced plans to drastically cut down truck pollution in the US. The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a new rule that would require new trucks to reduce harmful nitrogen oxide emissions by 90 percent from current standards by 2031. Biden is also taking aim at greenhouse gas pollution by boosting efforts to switch out diesel-burning vehicles with electric or hydrogen-powered trucks and buses.
The moves reflect fast-moving technological advancements in zero-emissions heavy-duty vehicles, according to a White House fact sheet released today. It also follows an infusion of cash for cleaner-burning vehicles laid out in the bipartisan infrastructure law passed last year. The actions align with two priorities President Joe Biden has pushed since the campaign trail: tackling climate change and cleaning up the air in communities that have been disproportionately burdened with pollution.
Heavy-duty vehicles like trucks and buses are the US’s biggest source of nitrogen oxides (NOx), one of the primary pollutants that causes smog. On its own, NOx emissions can also make it harder for people with asthma and other respiratory diseases to breathe. Long-term exposure to high levels of NOx can cause people to develop asthma. The EPA’s new rule, if fully implemented, could prevent 2,000 premature deaths a year, according to the fact sheet. It could also prevent 6,700 hospital and ER visits annually and 18,000 cases of childhood asthma.
“Neighborhoods near highways, ports, and other congested areas are especially impacted by health problems and premature deaths associated with dirty diesel exhaust,” the White House fact sheet says. Pollution got even worse for some of those neighborhoods last year when snarled supply chains caused ship and truck traffic to back up near ports. Americans of color have also borne a heavier burden of smog-forming nitrogen dioxide pollution.
Heavy-duty vehicles also account for over a quarter of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. The White House also said in a statement today that it is considering updated standards for greenhouse gas emissions for model year 2027–2029 trucks and buses.
“Because costs have fallen and state and local policy will drive deployment, zero-emission trucks and buses are entering the market much faster than anticipated when rules were previously set,” the White House fact sheet says. Zero-emission electric trucks can reach total-cost-of-driving parity with diesel-burning trucks by 2035, according to a new study published by the National Renewable Energy Lab today.
The push to build out a national electric vehicle charging network, funded by the new Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, includes charging infrastructure for trucks. The Biden administration is also trying to cut down its own pollution, aiming for the federal government to reach net zero emissions for its operations by 2050. That includes replacing its gas-burning fleet with cleaner alternatives. But those efforts have hit road bumps: the United States Postal Service in February decided to update its mail truck fleet with almost all gas-guzzling vehicles.