Opinion: Michigan should lead clean transformation of trucks and buses

By Charles Griffith

A school bus drops children off on the corner. A semi-truck brings car parts to the assembly factory.  A garbage truck picks up trash and recycling every week around the neighborhood. 

Envision a world in which all of these can happen without producing harmful pollution, and at a cost that is cheaper to American households and businesses. That day may be closer than we think — if the Biden administration and Congress strengthen truck fuel efficiency standards, incentivize clean energy manufacturing and support initiatives that produce cleaner and more cost-effective transportation options. 

We also need Michigan to join the memorandum of understanding signed by 15 other states committing to zero out emissions from trucks and buses by 2050.     

Every year more than 20,000 Americans die prematurely because of the pollution from our roadway vehicles, according to one study. Alarmingly, the Detroit-Warren-Ann Arbor area ranks 12th for annual particle pollution out of 204 metropolitan areas by the American Lung Association.

We need transformative climate and clean air action now because we can’t build a healthy future on a sick planet or in a polluted neighborhood.

A focus on buses and trucks is essential because while these larger vehicles account for just 10% of all vehicles, according to federal data, they are responsible for 28% of global warming emissions and up to 57% of fine particulate emissions.

In fact, a new report by the Environmental Defense Fund titled Clean Trucks, Clean Air, American Jobs, analyzed the effects of eliminating tailpipe pollution from medium and heavy-duty vehicles — including buses, semis and other long-haul trucks, and the “last-mile” trucks that deliver packages to American homes.

The report found that by reducing pollution in freight trucks used in urban and community areas by 2035 and eliminating pollution from all new freight trucks and buses by 2040, would save more than 57,000 people from premature death by 2050. It would also eliminate more than 4.7 billion metric tons of climate pollution by 2050, saving our society $485 billion in health and environmental benefits alone as a result of pollution reductions.

Thankfully, zero-emission trucks and buses are quickly becoming available, with more than 100 models of electric vehicles either already available or coming to market by 2024, ranging from shuttle buses and delivery vans to school buses and tractor-trailers. 

Delivery vehicles under development by GM with its new BrightDrop EV600 truck it will start making for Fed Ex, as well as announced electrification plans by Ford, Rivian and Amazon are just a few of examples of progress in the short-haul sector. Daimler and Volvo are two examples of companies that have announced alternative options in the more challenging heavy duty truck market.

But our elected officials must now help to accelerate the transition to electric trucks and buses, bolstering the market while also making our communities more sustainable and equitable than before.

First, we need the Biden administration to follow-through on its commitment to strengthen emission standards, both for light-duty vehicles as well as trucks. Second, we need Congress to boost investments in clean energy and automotive manufacturing. Third we need to directly invest in cleaner trucks and buses for our communities. 

The good news is that Michigan is well positioned to lead this transformation. We have world class vehicle manufacturing, research and ingenuity. We have companies committed to producing a cleaner, more cost-effective fleet. We have leadership at the local, state and national level ready to take action. And we have the engagement of environmental, labor and community groups grounded in the real concerns and issues of families — a powerful recipe to deliver equitable solutions.

Charles Griffith serves as co-chair of the Transportation and Mobility Workgroup of the Michigan Council on Climate Solutions and is the climate and energy program director at the Ecology Center. 

Op-Ed originally published on Detroit News on April 28, 2021. Please find the original publication here