A coalition of states is following California’s  lead in setting goals to jump-start a transition  to electric-powered trucks, vans and buses in  order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and  improve air quality for communities choked by  diesel fumes.

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The 15 states, plus Washington, D.C., announced  last week that they’ve agreed to develop an  action plan aimed at having 100% of all new  medium- and heavy-duty vehicles sold be zeroemission by 2050, with an interim target of 30%  zero-emission vehicle sales by 2030.

“This is a really big deal in sending a powerful  signal to industry with directions on where  we need to be going with transportation,” said  Bill Van Amburg, executive vice president of CALSTART, a nonprofit consortium focused on  building a clean transportation industry. “You can now justify further investment to develop  more products.”

Details are yet to be worked out. One option would be to adopt the mandate California’s Air  Resources Board announced in June requiring that all new commercial trucks and vans  purchased must be zero-emission by 2045, with milestones along the way. Or the states could  focus more on subsidies and incentives, as well as  investment in charging infrastructure.

“This memorandum of understanding magnifies  what California did in adopting its regulation,”  said Paul Cort, an attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice. “It tells manufacturers that  they not only have to produce these trucks for  California but also for these other states,” which  represent the market for 40% of truck sales.

The states that signed the agreement are  California, Connecticut, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine,  Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York,  North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode  Island, Vermont and Washington. The group had  already committed to an action plan to foster  electrification of passenger vehicles.

“The important step will be the details that  emerge from this agreement,” said Jimmy O’Dea,  a vehicles analyst at the Union of Concerned  Scientists. “The direction the states need to go  should be in response to the urgency of the situation, both on air quality and climate change.” There are about 28 million trucks and buses —  about 10% of all vehicles — in the United States,  according to a 2019 report authored by O’Dea.

They account for 28% of total carbon emissions in the transportation sector.

Truck and engine manufacturers, oil companies,  and farming and other industries opposed  California’s mandate, saying it was expensive and unrealistic. Jed Mandel, president of the Truck  and Engine Manufacturers Association, said  the California rule would “collapse” for lack of  charging infrastructure.

Van Amburg said growth of the industry could  be fast-tracked by federal incentives to support  charging infrastructure and purchases of zeroemission trucks.

In New York, a package of clean transportation  initiatives announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo  includes a utility-funded program to deploy  more than 50,000 charging stations by 2025.  There’s also an allocation of nearly $50 million  from the Volkswagen diesel emissions settlement  to boost the use of electric transit and school  buses and expand charging infrastructure.

The U.S. and Canada are on track to have 169  models of zero-emission commercial vehicles  available for purchase by the end of 2020,  compared to 95 models in 2019, according to  projections from CALSTART’s Zero-Emission  Technology Inventory, launched in March.

The fastest-growing segments are transit buses  and urban delivery trucks that have known  routes and the ability to recharge at depots  overnight. Amazon, IKEA, FedEx and UPS  have made commitments and investments in  manufacturers of zero-emission commercial  vehicle companies such as Rivian, Arriva and  Chanje in recent months.

It will take longer for zero-emissions technology to  meet the distance and payload capacities needed  by heavy-duty trucking fleets, said Benjamin  Mandel, CALSTART’s Northeast regional director.  Daimler, Tesla, Volvo and China’s BYD are among  the manufacturers working on electric big rigs.

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