The growing throng of trucks delivering house shingles, soda bottles, washing machines, and virtually every other consumer staple imaginable to Nevadans is also delivering a noxious side effect – air pollution.
And that air pollution is getting worse. As summer temperatures, wildfires, and population levels rise in Nevada, that trifecta is mingling with gridlocked truck traffic on highways near low-income neighborhoods such as East Las Vegas, making it hard to breathe for thousands of residents.
A 2021 study by the American Lung Association ranked Las Vegas as the country’s 12th most polluted metropolitan area for ground-level smog pollution, which is especially harmful to children, older adults, and those with asthma and other lung diseases.
Last week, the state took an important step to reduce truck pollution, which is also contributing to global climate change. Backed by dozens of businesses, the governor has joined a multi-state effort to accelerate the state’s transition for medium- and heavy-duty trucks, including school and transit buses, to zero-pollution electric vehicles.
Nevada is the 17th state to sign a Medium- and Heavy-Duty Zero Emission Vehicle Memorandum of Understanding, pledging that at least 30 percent of all new trucks and buses sold in the state will be zero-emission vehicles by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.
The governor’s move will bring wide-ranging benefits to consumers, businesses, and the overall state economy. Most importantly, it will reduce the rising number of dangerous air quality days that Nevada has experienced as heat waves, wildfires, and truck traffic have proliferated. Several counties in Nevada reported their worst air quality index levels on record last summer as wildfires were raging across the West.
According to the American Lung Association, widespread adoption of electric vehicles in Nevada could generate $7.5 billion in public health benefits for the state. Thousands of ‘lost’ workdays will also be avoided.
A cleaner truck fleet will also reduce climate warming pollution, which is pushing summertime heat and drought conditions in Nevada to dangerous levels.
Transportation is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions generated by the U.S. – roughly 29 percent of all emissions – with truck emissions accounting for more than a quarter of those emissions.
And the industry’s impacts are growing. Fueled by a rise in pandemic online shopping and supply chain disruptions, overall truck mileage on U.S. roads hit a record nearly 300 billion miles in the 12 months ended September 2021, roughly 2 percent above the same period in the prior year. Additional jumps are expected in 2022.
Citing fuel savings, energy security, and climate protection, dozens of businesses, many of them with major truck fleets, have been pushing to shift from petroleum- to electric-powered fleets. More than 50 companies, including major corporate fleets like DHL, IKEA North American Services, PepsiCo, Unilever, and Nestle sent a letter to the governor last July, urging him to join the MOU and unlock the economic benefits of electric trucks and buses. These companies are investing in cleaner fleets because they see an opportunity to save money – clean trucks can have significantly lower fuel and maintenance costs than diesel powered trucks.
Non-fleet companies like Etsy, eBay, and Levi Strauss & Co. are also supporting the shift. They want the trucks in their supply chain to be cheaper and cleaner – so they can capture the savings and meet goals they’ve reduce their climate impact. For example, Levi Strauss & Co. – which has a distribution center in Henderson – has set a goal to reduce climate emissions from their supply chain 40 percent by 2040.
There is no time to waste in accelerating their shift.
With limited federal policies supporting electric trucks, state and corporate leadership is critical to catalyze electric truck production at the levels that will be needed. In fact, a survey of 24 companies in Ceres’ Corporate Electric Vehicle Alliance shows that they plan to procure 330,000 electric cars and trucks in just the next five years.
We’re also running out of time to reduce climate pollution at the levels that are needed to avoid potentially catastrophic warming. The International Council on Clean Transportation has identified the coming decade as critical for transitioning the transportation sector, noting that the 2050 Paris global climate goal requires lowering transport sector emissions by 80 percent. To achieve this goal, electric trucks must be the majority of global truck sales.
No doubt, Nevada is doing its part to tackle the climate issue while putting the economy is a strong competitive position for the low-carbon future. Gov. Sisolak’s leadership in boosting renewable energy, modernizing the state’s grid, and catalyzing one of the fastest growing green workforces in the country is already yielding strong returns. His latest move to electrify the state’s trucking industry will strengthen the state’s future even more.
Jennifer Helfrich is senior manager of state policy at Ceres, a nonprofit organization working with the most influential capital market leaders to solve the world’s greatest sustainability challenges. She leads Ceres’ state policy work in western states as well as Ceres’ efforts on multi-state transportation policy initiatives.