BlueGreen Alliance | Clean Cars, Clean Air, Good Jobs Blog Series: Part Three – Setting the Record Straight on Clean Truck Standards

Clean Cars, Clean Air, Good Jobs Blog Series: Part Three – Setting the Record Straight on Clean Truck Standards

March 18, 2024

By Gerald D. Taylor, Research and Policy Analyst

In 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the ‘Clean Trucks Plan,’ a two-part regulatory scheme aimed at reducing tailpipe emissions from heavy-duty vehicles (HDVs) by harnessing recent improvements in clean vehicle technologies. The first part of this plan, an emissions standard designed to reduce smog-forming nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution from HDVs, was finalized in December 2022. EPA is currently in the process of finalizing the second part of this plan, an emissions standard designed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from HDVs.

The trucking industry lobby has a long history of working to obstruct this kind of regulatory progression. But as we’ll see here, in the third and final part of this series, the typical arguments against truck standards are rife with misinformation, and must be taken with a grain of salt. Here we will correct three of the most commonly repeated claims about the supposed dangers of adopting strong clean truck standards, and set the record straight.

DID YOU KNOW: Clean truck standards prioritize emissions reductions from truck classes and use cases that are ripest and readiest for electrification.

Colloquially, we know HDVs as light trucks, delivery vans, utility vehicles, transit and school buses, and tractor trailers. These vehicles perform a wide variety of tasks—among other things, they stitch together critical supply chains, shuttle children to and from school, support public utilities like waste management and mail delivery, and comprise the public transit fleets that connect our communities. It stands to reason, then, that cleaning up HDV fleets requires access to clean trucks models that are capable of performing the variety of tasks required of them.

The trucking industry lobby argues that currently available clean truck models are not up to the task of meeting the industry’s diverse performance needs. According to them, clean truck standards effectively force the industry to rely upon vehicles or technologies that are either unproven or altogether unavailable, and for this reason ought to be rejected.

There are at least two reasons to be skeptical of this claim. The first is that, while it is true enough that clean vehicle standards are regularly and intentionally implemented at times when the industry is not yet fully technologically prepared to comply with them, it is important to keep in mind one of the historical reasons that this ‘technology-forcing’ strategy was adopted in the first place—namely, obstruction and dishonesty by auto industry stakeholders themselves.

Second, and perhaps more to the point, is that there is already a broad offering of viable clean trucks on the market. CALSTART’s Zero-Emission Technology Inventory shows that there were 856 zero-emission truck models on the global market at the end of 2023’s first quarter, including transit buses, cargo vans, delivery trucks, and other medium- and heavy-duty vehicles (MHDVs). Furthermore, 235 of these models have come to market in just the past two years.

Additionally, a recent study by Environmental Resources Management (ERM) suggests that even where viable clean truck models are not yet available, it is likely that they will be very soon. ERM evaluated the readiness of several segments of the MHDV market for a transition the use of electric vehicles (EVs) according to four key factors: the ability of that segment to meet charging infrastructure demands; the availability of appropriate EV models from major manufacturers; the ability of available EV models to meet daily range requirements; and the cost of the EV models on offer.

The study found that four market segments—heavy-duty pickups and vans, garbage trucks, delivery vans, and service vans—are already fully prepared for widespread EV adoption, and that a further eight segments—transit bus, school bus, service trucks, delivery trucks, dump trucks, box trucks, and flatbed trucks—could achieve full market readiness as soon as 2025.

These twelve market segments alone represent roughly two-thirds of the nation’s MHDV fleet, and account for about a third of all urban GHG, NOx, and particulate matter emissions. Reducing air pollution from even this subsection of the MHDV fleet would pay enormous dividends, not only for the environment, but also for public health outcomes.

DID YOU KNOW: Truck manufacturers and fleets can afford to transition to cleaner trucks, thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act.

Another common argument against clean truck standards is that they would impose serious economic burdens on the trucking industry, particularly on the manufacturers building HDVs and the truck and fleet owners purchasing them.

The basic claim underlying this argument is that when clean truck standards become more stringent, those responsible for purchasing HDVs face a dilemma. On the one hand, they can choose to acquire newer, lower-emitting HDVs or develop and implement other clean vehicle technologies. But this approach would be excessively costly to the fleet owner, because of the high upfront cost of purchasing new vehicles compliant with more stringent standards.

On the other hand, they can choose to buy up older, higher-emitting vehicles, or even to defer the purchase of new vehicles entirely, in order to avoid heavy spending in an attempt to comply with more stringent standards. But this approach, though it would save them money, would undermine our progress towards achieving important climate, public health, and environmental justice goals.

However, thanks to historic investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and the Inflation Reduction Act, this is a false choice. The BIL and the Inflation Reduction Act are the largest and most important federal infrastructure and climate bills in U.S. history. Together, they devote trillions of dollars over the next decade or more to the cause of expanding our national EV charging infrastructure, making our energy grid cleaner and more resilient, and supporting the development of a robust and resilient EV supply chain right here in the United States.

The Biden administration announced last year that these investments had already played an important role in catalyzing more than $700 million in private investments in EV charging alone. And at the time of writing, the EV Jobs Hub, a useful new data tool created by the BlueGreen Alliance and Atlas Public Policy, shows that since the BIL’s passage, there has been $177 billion worth of private investment in EV manufacturing industries, supporting 215,000 announced jobs at over 400 facilities across the nation. Further, recent research conducted by the Environmental Defense Fund finds that $9 billion in electric MHDV and component manufacturing investment has been announced in the past eight years, with more than half of that total coming just since the BIL was passed. It is worth noting that these values do not even include the additional investments that have been made in the development of vehicle efficiency and fuel economy technologies for internal combustion engine vehicles.

The EV Jobs Hub illuminates not only where new electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing jobs are being announced, but also what those jobs will look like. Learn more at

Investments like these are crucial to the successful implementation of strong clean truck standards. Supply-side provisions like production tax credits and selling requirements increase the availability of the vehicles and technologies that are required to comply with strong standards; and demand-side provisions like competitive loan programs, consumer tax credits, and fleet procurement requirements generate a robust and stable market for those vehicles and technologies.

When ambitious standards, smart policies, and historic economic investments align in this way, the presumptive market advantage that conventional HDVs are thought to have over their cleaner counterparts is greatly diminished. The industry has never had more resources available to it to facilitate the transition to cleaner trucks.

DID YOU KNOW: Federal and private investments are already working to ensure that HDV-specific charging infrastructure is ready to support the clean trucks of the future.

To the extent that cleaning up our HDV fleets will require widespread transportation electrification, it will also require the support of an expansive charging network that is specially built to accommodate larger vehicles and their batteries, and that is powered by a clean and efficient energy grid. A robust charging network is especially important for vehicles in the logistics sector—like long-haul tractor trailers—which require powerful and fast-charging infrastructure to stay on schedule as they perform their crucial services.

Trucking industry lobbyists often argue that we simply don’t have the necessary charging infrastructure in place to support widespread transportation electrification, making it unwise to strengthen clean truck standards either too much or too quickly.

There is an important assumption underlying this argument that must be pointed out—namely, that the buildout of the nation’s charging infrastructure must already be largely complete before it even begins to make sense to attempt a widespread transition to clean trucks.

A steady stream of recent research rebuts this claim, built upon the idea that it would be more effective in any case to build out this infrastructure in phases. Recent reports from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the International Council on Clean Transportation emphasize the importance of thinking of charging infrastructure needs not as a large, undifferentiated set of costs and obstacles, but rather as a set of specific concerns that need not—and perhaps even ought not—all be addressed at once to ensure a successful infrastructure build out.

A recent CALSTART report takes this basic point even further, offering a specific, concrete plan for how to conduct this buildout in phases, prioritizing the areas of highest need—like high-traffic areas, shipping routes, and clusters of industrial activity—and expanding to achieve more comprehensive coverage only after this initial network has taken shape.

The charging situation is even more favorable when considering the investments from the BIL and the Inflation Reduction Act. The BIL allocates $7.5 billion to making vast improvements to our charging infrastructure by the year 2030. The majority this funding—fully $5 billion—comes in the form of the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program, which allocates funds to states for the purpose of building out their charging infrastructure along highway corridors and is specifically targeted at low-income and non-urban census tracts.

The remaining $2.5 billion comes in the form of the Charging and Fueling Infrastructure Discretionary Grant Program, which supports the installation of a range of alternative fuel infrastructure types to fill gaps along highway corridors and within communities.

Likewise, the Inflation Reduction Act supports the growth of our charging network by reinstating and expanding the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Refueling Property Credit, which is aimed at easing the economic burden of installing charging infrastructure for individuals, residences, and businesses. It also devotes $9 billion collectively to three programs—the Clean Heavy-Duty Vehicle Program, the Clean Ports Program, and the Climate Pollution Reduction Grant Program—that are intended to reduce the environmental and public health impacts from HDV emissions in particular, and in a way that supports the communities that have historically borne the heaviest pollution burdens.

An expansive and powerful charging network is clearly important for a clean truck future, and a great deal of work needs to be done to prepare the nation and its charging infrastructure for the coming proliferation of EVs. But with landmark public investments like the BIL and the Inflation Reduction Act in place—and with vehicle manufacturers taking notice and fueling private investment in EV charging as well—it seems that we are already on a good trajectory.

Having taken a critical look at some of the most common arguments made by industry stakeholders against ambitious clean truck standards, we find them to be largely exaggerated. While some of these arguments contain a kernel of truth about the challenges that regulatory progression poses for the trucking industry, they do not establish that ambitious standards are as threatening to workers or the economy as some in the trucking industry would have us believe.


Read Part One of the series here.

Read Part Two of the series here.