Zero-emission trucking could save $735 million in health costs: Report

Motorists slow as traffic backs up in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Widespread adoption of zero-emission trucking could save up to $735 million in health care costs around major transportation corridors over the next two decades, according to a new report by the American Lung Association.

The report’s lead author says states will play a starring role in adopting stricter truck emissions that nudge the U.S. toward new emission-free vehicles. Several states are following California, which in 2020 enacted an advanced clean truck policy that requires car makers to sell growing levels of zero-emission trucks from 2024 to 2035.

“Since 2020, five other states have adopted California’s advanced clean truck standard,” Barrett said in an interview. “And so more and more states are building this momentum towards zero emission trucking.”

The five states are Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington. The California Air Resources Board is also developing the advanced clean fleet rule to transition California’s medium- and heavy-duty trucks fleet to zero-emission by 2045. 

The Golden State holds particular sway in car emissions since it’s allowed to set standards lower than the federal government’s. California was exempted from the relevant Clean Air Act provisions because it had addressed smog in Las Angeles before the act’s car emissions provision was enacted.

“[S]tates do have the authority under the federal Clean Air Act to opt in to the stronger than federal standards that are developed, and can take advantage of that by adopting the advanced clean truck rule and other rules that would put more health protective standards in place to implement these stronger trucking policies,” Barrett said.

Currently, 15 states have adopted zero-emission vehicle standards, according to ALA. California led the way in August when it set rules and benchmarks to move 100% zero-emission new cars and light truck sales by 2035. 

Barrett also said that there are emission-reduction programs that states can avail themselves of in the recently enacted federal Inflation Reduction Act and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The transportation sector contributed 27% of the country’s emissions in 2020. But heavy trucks are particularly heavy polluters. 

“[H]eavy duty vehicles represent about 6% of all the vehicles on the roads across the country,” Barrett said. “But they’re generating nearly 60% of the smog-forming emissions and over half of particle farming emissions.” 

“These two pollutants are the most widespread pollutants in the United States and are threatening the health of 137 million Americans who live in a community facing unhealthy levels of ozone, or particle pollution, or both,” Barrett continued. “And trucks are by far the dominant source of pollution on our road.”

According to Tuesday’s report, the move to clean trucking would prevent more than 66,000 premature deaths in the heaviest trucking corridors. The shift would result in 1.75 million fewer asthma attacks and 8.5 million fewer workday absences. 

Los Angeles County, a major trade hub and home to the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach, would save the most, $36.4 million in economic costs, 3,310 premature deaths, 91,700 fewer asthma attacks and 472,000 fewer missed work days.

Cook County, Ill., home of Chicago, would stand to gain $14.3 million. Harris County, Texas, home of Houston, would reap $12.9 million in added economic activity.

An ALA report released in March found that transitioning to zero-emission transportation and electricity generation could save up to $1.2 trillion in public health benefits, including $100 billion each for California and Texas.