An Oregon regulatory panel is set to vote Wednesday on whether to require the gradual shift of medium and heavy-duty trucks from fossil fuels to electric power, starting in 2024.

The Oregon Environmental Quality Commission also is considering rules to reduce transportation related greenhouse gas emissions and to reduce harmful air pollutants coming from the same emissions.

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The Department of Environmental Quality’s senior air quality planner Rachel Sakata said it’s urgent that Oregon reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants that could cause asthma and other respiratory illnesses. She said trucks are among Oregon’s fastest-growing sources of carbon emission.

“Transportation basically accounts for 40% of statewide greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon,” she said. “So, while heavy duty trucks and busses which are usually filled by diesel, only account for 4% of vehicles on the road nationally, they’re responsible for 23% of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon.”

The continued burning of fossil fuels is contributing to higher average temperatures and several consequences: more intense storm events, drought, more severe wildfire seasons and the threat of extinction for wildlife that can’t adapt to a rapidly-warming planet.

Daimler's eCascadia and the eM2 are two of the first electric semi-trucks to hit the highways.

Daimler's eCascadia and the eM2 are two of the first electric semi-trucks to hit the highways.

Courtesy of Daimler Trucks North America

The proposed Advanced Clean Truck rule would require manufacturers of medium and heavy-duty vehicles, like large pick-up trucks, busses and 18-wheelers, to sell a certain percentage of zero emissions electric vehicles starting with the 2025 model year.

“It starts at various percentages based on the different class types of trucks,” Sakata said.

For example, she said manufacturers of pickup trucks and vans would need to see that zero-emission vehicles make up 7% of their Oregon sales starting in 2024. By 2035, manufacturers of all types of trucks, vans, and buses would need zero-emission vehicles to make up at least 40% of their Oregon sales.

Sakata said the gradual ramp up is important to help manufacturers make the transition.

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“It recognizes the tractor trailer trucks will take a little more time and may not necessarily be able to switch over completely to the zero-emissions vehicle technology,” she said.

Climate Solutions’ Oregon Transportation Policy Manager Victoria Paykar said if the rules are adopted, they will not only help get Oregon reduce its dependence on fossil fuels — but they will also be a huge investment in public health.

“Currently, Oregon has a huge diesel problem, and we have one of the dirtiest fleets as a state in the nation,” Paykar said. “We do have a lot of communities who are suffering from diesel pollution burdens.”

Paykar said low-income communities and Black, Indigenous, and communities of color are disproportionately affected by air pollution due to historically racist public land use laws and transportation policies. She said many of these communities are located near if not adjacent to highways and industrial zones.

A coalition of more than 30 environmental, health and community groups, including Climate Solutions and Renew Oregon, say this is not only a climate emergency but a health one as well. A study commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Union of Concerned Scientists found Oregonians can save $21.1 billion and avoid nearly 84,000 respiratory illnesses by 2050, if the state begins to transition to zero-emission electric trucks now.

“We will see on the streets, immediate improvements in air quality and health, decreased pollution as these trucks roll out, business and government fleets will then see savings from electricity because it’s cheaper for fuel and less maintenance on these trucks,” Renew Oregon’s Campaign Manager Brad Reed said.

But Aimée Okotie-Oyekan, NAACP Eugene/Springfield’s environmental and climate justice coordinator, said although these rules would lay a strong foundation to begin to electrify more vehicles in the state, more work remains to make sure these vehicles are actually being bought and used in areas where pollution is high.

“I think it’s really important that it is mandating the sale for zero-emission vehicles and that can lay the groundwork for mandating the purchasing of zero emissions vehicles and making sure that those are deployed in areas that are overburdened by air pollution and public health disparities,” she said.

Okotie-Oyekan is also looking at the complete life cycle of electric vehicles— from mining lithium and other metals to manufacture batteries, to whether they can be responsibly recycled.

Oregon Trucking Associations President Jana Jarvis said there are opportunities for new technologies for the trucking industry but she’s not sure if electric trucks are the fuel for the future, especially for medium- to heavy-duty trucks. She said more research and development is needed to better understand alternative fuels and electrifying trucks. Right now, she said, it’s unclear what the future holds when it comes to batteries and charging stations along transportation routes to ensure that trucks can deliver freight efficiently.

“Then you think about having to stop and recharge — if there was a charging infrastructure and if there was enough grid capacity. And both of those are questions today,” she said. “You start thinking about doing that every couple hundred miles and you realize the inefficiencies the trucking industry would be subject to by conversion to electric vehicles.”

Jarvis said some of her association’s larger companies are trying to use electric trucks, but getting the charging infrastructure installed in their terminals has been difficult, depending on their location.

“In many parts of the state there just isn’t the grid capacity to accommodate that,” she said.

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