Effort to Ban Diesel Trucks Overlooks Industry’s Key Challenges and Improvements

A consortium of states has pledged to ban all diesel trucks by 2050, according to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) released on July 15, 2020. The states, which include California, Colorado, New York, Pennsylvania and 11 others, have also set the interim goal of cutting the number of diesel trucks sold by 30 percent by 2030.

The ban would impact a wide variety of business sectors and vehicle types, including large pickup trucks, delivery trucks, school and transit buses, and long-haul delivery trucks, among others. The implications of such a far-reaching ban are significant – and they ignore key data and scientific research.

Emissions Reductions in the Trucking Industry

Technological advancements have helped the trucking industry dramatically reduce emissions in recent years. Idle reduction equipment and speed governors are two technologies helping to regulate heavy-duty truck emissions. Today’s diesel vehicles come equipped with selective catalytic reduction, which is capable of modest fuel efficiency gains and reducing nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 90 percent.

According to the Diesel Technology Forum, since 2010, new diesel technology is capable of reducing 98 percent of particulate matter and nitrogen oxide emissions. Trucks equipped with this technology have risen from 25.7 percent of the total fleet in 2015 to 43 percent in 2018-19.

“Zero-Emission” Trucks

The MOU frames the ban on diesel trucks as promoting so-called “zero-emission” vehicles. But all vehicles produce emissions. Just as traditional vehicles with internal combustion engines produce emissions during manufacturing and operation, so too do electric cars and trucks.

The electricity required to charge EV batteries is a source of emissions at power plants. The quantity of emissions depends on the mix of fuels and technologies in use by the facilities generating power to the electric grid. But that only covers the operation side of the equation.

Electric vehicle batteries require a tremendous amount of energy to produce, and that process comprises a significant source of lifecycle emissions for EVs. Larger vehicles like buses, pickup trucks and long-haul delivery trucks require even larger batteries to store the energy necessary to haul heavy loads. Bigger batteries require even greater amounts of energy and emissions when compared to light-duty vehicles equipped with smaller batteries.

Therefore, it is a misnomer to label this proposed truck ban as an effort to promote a “zero-emission” transportation sector.

Unique Challenges for Long-Haul Trucking

The larger batteries necessary for electric trucks impact more than just vehicle lifecycle emissions. Light-duty EVs are about 24 percent heavier than their traditional counterparts, according to a report published in the journal Atmospheric Environment. If electric trucks have a similar weight increase due to their batteries, there could be safety and efficiency implications. And if weight waivers are granted for heavy-duty trucks, this could undermine the science used to protect roads and limit structural damage to bridges. Long-haul trucks have a federal weight limit of 80,000 pounds. If this standard is applied to electric long-haul trucks, their heavy batteries could result in reduced cargo carrying capacity which, all other things being equal, could lead to more trucks on the road. This would create unnecessary congestion and the potential for more accidents. Additionally, a larger truck fleet that has more vehicle miles traveled to deliver the same goods may counteract potential CO2 reductions expected from truck electrification.

Medium-duty trucks will also weigh more and, while they do not necessarily have the same weight considerations of the heavy-duty trucks, heavier vehicles create more wear and tear on our roads and bridges. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ most recent report card gave our nation’s roads a “D” grade and our bridges a “C+.” Drivers pay for our transportation infrastructure through fuel taxes – 18.4 cents per gallon for gasoline, and 24.4 cents for diesel. But electric vehicles of all types, from compact light-duty cars to heavy-duty trucks, do not pay federal fuel taxes. That means EVs are contributing to the overall deterioration of our roads but are not paying for upkeep. Given all of the advancements in diesel technology in recent years and the expected improvements in the years to come, an attempt to ban these essential vehicles in the years ahead – especially based on the false goal of “zero emissions” – is short-sighted.