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Join our work today to help us build a thriving and just clean energy future. 

What’s Holding the Biden Administration Back from Cleaning Up Pollution in Port and Freight Communities?

Short answer: Nothing! EPA can stand up to industry bluster, tackle the climate crisis, and build healthier communities if it sets stronger standards for heavy-duty vehicle pollution by the end of the year.

Man standing in front of the back of a large white truck in the city.
In New York's Hunts Point Peninsula, a driver uses a new electric truck to make deliveries throughout the community. © 2015 NYCDOT/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)



Update (March 2024): Our advocacy worked! In March 2024, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the strongest-ever heavy-duty vehicle (“Phase 3”) standard, which will reduce a billion tons worth of greenhouse gas pollution and create $13 billion in public health savings. Thanks to 175,000 comments submitted to EPA by Evergreen actiontakers and others, EPA finalized a stronger rule than the original proposal. While there is more work to be done to electrify existing fleets, not just new vehicles, this rule is a major step forward in decarbonizing America’s trucks, buses, and trains and bringing clean air to the millions of Americans living in port and freight communities.


Last updated March 29, 2024

Transportation is the leading contributor to greenhouse gas and air pollution in the U.S. And, unlike power sector pollution, it is growing. So if we want to tackle the climate crisis and build healthier communities, we need to start here. 

Fortunately, the Biden administration has one of its biggest opportunities to advance environmental justice and tackle climate pollution in one go by strengthening the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed heavy-duty vehicle rule (also called the “Phase 3” rule). The rule puts a cap on how much greenhouse gas pollution heavy-duty vehicles—like delivery trucks, school buses, and large motor homes—can emit and would apply to heavy-duty vehicles sold in 2027 and beyond.

There’s no time to waste. Transportation doesn’t just have climate implications: The dangerous pollution spewing from tailpipes is poisoning the predominantly Black, Brown, and lower-income communities that live near transportation infrastructure. Decades of discriminatory housing and transportation practices have forced communities of color to live in industrial areas or near highway infrastructure, causing a slew of health problems, and even deaths.

A red container truck leaving the port and driving through streets near houses and gas stations.

Despite taking millions in federal funding, the trucking industry is stalling a federal rule. Meanwhile, Black, Brown, and lower-income communities along truck routes continue to experience health problems linked to transportation pollution. © 2007 VDOT/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Of course, the giant trucking industry is revving up to fight back. Despite taking millions in public money for electric trucks, the big engine manufacturers and trucking firms are pouring lobbying dollars into opposing strong federal rules. Their trade associations—the Engine Manufacturers’ Association, the American Trucking Association, and their hilariously misnamed joint effort, the “Clean Freight Coalition”—are eager to stall out the federal rules and use their networks of influence to undermine ambition. It’s time to fight back.

If the administration stands up and gets it right, this rule can change course and drive forward a transition to zero-emission trucking. A strong rule could put an end to the combustion pollution pouring into communities along truck routes, while commercializing powerful heavy-duty batteries that can also help balance the power grid. It would save thousands of lives, cut childhood asthma, and put the U.S. in the driver’s seat, globally, on clean transportation. 

Setting a strong rule is a no-brainer, and a tremendous opportunity for the White House to make good on its environmental justice and climate commitments. So, what’s holding them back? 


The science, the law, and billions in investments make the path clear. But that doesn’t mean the fossil fuel-backed trucking industry doesn’t want to squeeze every last dollar out of its dirty engines. That’s why EPA needs to write a strong rule, now.

Line graph showing California's sales of zero-emission vehicles surpasses the European Union's and US' sales.

Estimated share of zero-emission vehicles in new heavy-duty vehicle sales based on regulatory proposals. California is the nation’s largest market and every big truck manufacturer has already agreed to 100 percent zero-emission vehicle sales by 2036. (Photo courtesy of The International Council on Clean Transportation/Yihao Xie)

The agency can do so by building on what advocates and leading states have already pushed industry to do. Under sustained public pressure, every one of the nation’s big truck engine manufacturers has already agreed to 100 percent zero-emission vehicle sales in California, the nation’s largest market, by 2036. These manufacturers are also striving to hit that same target in every state that adopts California’s rules. This would cover many of our largest ports (and their trucks) and about a quarter of the heavy-duty market. Of course, those same companies have now turned around to quietly lobby to weaken federal rules. They must be held to their stated commitments, not allowed to weasel out of them.

There’s plenty of room for a better corporate path if EPA pushes forward. After all, companies like Amazon, FedEx, and Walmart have all committed to additional pollution reductions from their fleets with fleet zero-emission targets for 2030 ranging from 50 percent to 100 percent.

By contrast, EPA’s proposal barely hits the threshold that industry is already on target for. The agency anticipates just 25 percent of heavy-duty truck sales as zero-emission by 2032—less than what the manufacturers have committed to supply, even when averaged across the U.S. The rule also lowballs electrification across all truck classes, falling well behind comparable proposals globally, including in the European Union

The federal rule could ensure all communities–not just those in leading states—benefit from electrification, drive major private investment, and vault the U.S. ahead of other nations. But instead, it is hovering around the status quo. EPA has made deep environmental justice commitments. It’s time for us all to make sure deep-pocketed companies don’t get in the way, and the agency realizes its own promises through cleaning up the most polluting sector for communities.

In short, this is EPA’s opportunity to set a bold, strong rule that takes advantage of industry commitments on a national basis, so we all can have cleaner air and a more livable planet. 


How Can the Administration Charge Forward on Heavy-Duty Decarbonization?

EPA must take advantage of the momentum from industry and states. It needs to ramp up its rule to set a clear path to electrify the sector and incentivize technological improvements to improve our air, public health, and climate—just as dozens of Senate and House Democrats have called for

The Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) rule secured in California requires 40 percent zero-emission truck sales by 2035, and the recent Advanced Clean Fleets (ACF) rule builds on it, requiring 100 percent zero-emission truck sales by 2036.

EPA Administrator Regan crouching to get a closer look at an all electric truck parked at a port.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan viewing electric trucks at the Port of Savannah, in Georgia. EPA can leverage industry commitments, momentum from states, and federal funding to close pollution loopholes and set a strong national standard.

EPA needs to adjust its carbon pollution standards to, at the very least, align with the ACT trajectory; to support rather than undermine these efforts; and to consider a standard that would achieve 100 percent zero-emission trucks soon thereafter. After finalizing the rule, EPA can go one step further and close a series of loopholes in its national smog rules that allowed polluting trucks to stay on the road, just as California and industry have agreed to do. 

And then there’s the matter of not just setting strong standards, but getting it done: EPA, as well as the Departments of Energy (DOE) and Transportation (DOT), have significant funding opportunities through:

What’s great about these funding streams is that much of it is designed to directly benefit communities of color and advance environmental justice through initiatives like Justice40. But so far, these funds are not being deployed strategically enough to link up with increased regulatory ambition. President Biden must connect these funds to clear commitments in our nation’s freight corridors, laying the groundwork for ambitious standards and safer, healthier communities. 

The White House must use its convening authorities to align these funds and strike key agreements among utilities, ports, states, truck-makers, government and labor groups, and communities to accelerate building essential charging infrastructure. 


But What About the Cost of Heavy-Duty Vehicle Electrification and the Need for Charging Infrastructure? 

First, electric vehicles are actually cheaper to run in the long term: They last longer, have more affordable parts, and aren’t impacted by volatile gas prices. And more affordable and larger batteries will only grow this trend in the future. In other words, it’s actually in corporations’ interests to transition to electric trucks—but they also have an obligation to do so. If we want a more robust supply chain, we need to increase production and cut costs. Electrification can help do that.

Second, the best way to increase the rapid build-out of charging infrastructure is to pass a strong rule requiring zero-emission trucks, which is the investment signal the private sector needs. Plus, all infrastructure does not need to be built at once. Aiming funds and White House-led agreements at infrastructure in key ports and freight corridors would be more than enough to support most trucks, which are concentrated in these areas. A smart phase-in, combined with a clear investment signal from strong rules, will get it done.

Beyond this, we’ve already laid out a bunch of federal investment opportunities to ensure that the heavy-duty vehicle charging network is extended and ready. The IRA and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) investments make it even easier by supporting progress in zero-emission heavy-duty vehicle manufacturing, purchasing, and expansion of charging and fueling infrastructure. Moreover, they boost parallel private investment in energy, infrastructure, and vehicle production and purchases. 

Lastly, let’s nip range anxiety in the bud. The fact is most heavy-duty trucks (about 70 percent) operate within a 100-mile radius, meaning we don’t need quite as many chargers as we might think and most trucks won’t have to charge any more often than they would fill in gas. New analysis from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) shows that the U.S. can electrify far more of the trucking fleet than EPA has proposed with focused infrastructure investments in the biggest ports and trucking corridors. In fact, infrastructure deployed on less than 10 percent of the highway network would get almost double the electrification that EPA’s proposal forecasts, proving industry bluster on infrastructure is just plain wrong.

Close up of a blue electric charging cable plugged into a white truck.

Passing a strong rule requiring zero-emission trucks signals to the private sector that investment in charging infrastructure is needed. And utilities can strategically meet the increased demand for electricity by using IRA tax credits to deploy more clean energy. © 2017 NREL/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Electrifying Trucks Helps Clean Up the Power Sector

Creating a strong heavy-duty vehicle rule doesn’t just address transportation pollution—it’s also a win for the power sector. A larger clean energy load incentivizes the power sector to shift electricity away from polluting coal and gas plants, going hand-in-hand with EPA’s power plant rules. And there’s never been a better time to do so with unprecedented investments from the IRA. 

Leading utilities can grow clean energy demand and abandon fossil plants faster by taking advantage of the IRA’s clean electricity production tax credit (PTC) and investment tax credit (ITC). And tax credits are accessible to a broader swath of organizations, state agencies, Tribes, and rural co-ops invested in the clean energy transition through elective pay. Beyond this, the IRA sets aside a whopping $3 billion solely for port decarbonization. That money should be focused on the biggest ports to decarbonize as much of the fleet, fast, as possible (with smaller planning grants carved out to spread the vision, while still using the bulk of the funds to accelerate cleaning the biggest fleets).

This means building out an integrated power and transportation system with clean technologies over fossil power is a better deal for utilities and communities. 


The Window of Opportunity Is Closing Fast

There’s no better time to get this done—and there’s actually not much time left to get it done. Transportation is not only the largest source of climate pollution in the U.S., but it’s the fastest-growing source with shipping-related transportation exploding. If we want to ramp down carbon pollution and create healthier communities, EPA needs to act quickly. 

With states leading the way on strong pollution standards, unprecedented funding opportunities to advance clean energy, and the deadline for this rule fast approaching, now is the time for EPA to stand up to industry hypocrisy and finalize the strongest possible version of the heavy-duty vehicle rules.