Up in the air

Pact for zero-emissions trucks signed by officials in eight states and D.C. How states and the nation’s capital reach to goal remains to be seen.

February 2020

Tyson Fisher


Environmental authorities in eight states and the District of Columbia have signed a memorandum of understanding with a goal of getting trucks and buses to zero greenhouse gas emissions.

On Dec. 12, environmental agencies for California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont all signed a statement of intent to have medium- and heavy-duty vehicles in their state reach zero emissions. To get there, electrification is the key.

“Our states recognize that nearly all new motor vehicles need to be electric by 2050 to achieve the necessary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,” the statement of intent asserts. “Therefore, transportation electrification is a key climate action strategy and a top air quality priority for our states.”

All but Maine and D.C. also signed the 2013 Governors’ Zero Emission Vehicle Memorandum of Understanding. The memorandum created a zero-emissions vehicles task force. According to its website, the task force will help implement a commitment by participating states “to having at least 3.3 million ZEVs operating on their roadways by 2025.” Zero-emissions vehicles include pure battery-electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles.

The 2013 memorandum deals primarily with passenger vehicles. The latest statement of intent targets medium- and heavy-duty vehicles exclusively and will use the same zero-emissions vehicles task force. The Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management organization will facilitate the effort.

How, exactly, participating states plan to reach the zero-emissions goal is yet to be determined.

State agencies will need to devise a plan. Even then, any plans will need to go through legislative hurdles and be signed off on by each governor.

Currently, zero-emission trucks are only feasible for local and regional hauls. Mileage range is not yet sufficient for long-haul trucking. Although several manufacturers are working on electric heavy-duty vehicles, such as Tesla’s Semi, mileage still cannot compete with diesel-powered trucks. Furthermore, the charging station infrastructure needs improvement for cross-country trips.

It is worth noting that what the state agencies signed was a memorandum of understanding. In other words, there is no concrete plan for heavy-duty zero-emissions vehicles. Rather, signatories are committing to efforts to reach a certain goal. How, or if, they can reach that goal remains to be seen.

In California, the state has invested nearly $1 billion in cap-and-trade proceeds into efforts to accelerate and promote commercialization of zero- and near-zero emissions trucks and buses. Larger fleets, like Pepsico and FedEx, have become partners in the initiatives.

Although the federal government has looked into the issue, some states want quicker action.

During a House Highways and Transit subcommittee hearing on Dec. 5, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., emphasized the need to move to zero-emissions trucks. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., echoed that sentiment.

In fact, many of the stakeholders testifying as witnesses during the hearing highlighted issues with greenhouse gas emissions from trucks. On the other hand, many of those witnesses were railroad industry stakeholders stating their case to move truck freight to rail.

States involved with the 2013 memorandum already have zero-emissions vehicle incentives in place for light-duty vehicles. For example, Vermont had a pilot program that gave $500 incentives for consumers at point-of-sale and $250 incentives for dealers. Meanwhile, Rhode Island has established state fleet purchase requirements. An executive order requires at least 75% of state motor vehicle acquisitions use alternative fuels, and the remaining 25% must be hybrid-electric.

Signatories will present a proposed memorandum of understanding to their respective governors and the mayor of the District of Columbia for consideration in the summer of 2020. LL

Tyson Fisher

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.