Trucking Must Prepare for Climate Initiatives

When it comes to MMTA being involved with matters of public policy on behalf of the trucking industry, climate initiatives have taken center stage. And quite a bit of our time lately. Whether it is the efforts of the Maine Climate Council, Governor Mills signing on to the Multi-State Medium and Heavy Duty Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) MOU, the EPA’s Cleaner Trucks Initiative or the potential impacts of the Transportation Climate Initiative and the Green New Deal – change is coming when it comes to environmental initiatives. And trucking needs to be ready.

As a practical matter, our position has never been to oppose progressive environmental ideas out of hand. We know the role we play in the environment and we also know the role we play when it comes to the economy. Our belief has always been that there has to be a balance, and solutions have to be market-driven and based upon unassailable data.

But the constant barrage is making it hard for us to be seen as partners in the proactive steps needed for a better environmental future. Take as an example, the July Memorandum of Understanding signed by Governor Mills that commits Maine to make sales of all new medium and heavy-duty vehicles zero emission vehicles by 2050. That includes OTR trucks, regardless of the weight of their payload. That includes LTL trucks. It includes trucks hauling over-dimensional loads. It also includes forest products trucks hauling out of the Maine woods. You get the picture.

The other states signing onto this MOU include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. While it only purports to work on a plan among the states to accomplish the stated goal of all CMV’s being ZEV’s by 2050, you have to wonder whether that plan will account for myriad of industry concerns. A short list of issues would include:

    • Mandates very often present significant implementation problems. Think about the supply issues with ULSD implementation, biodiesel use in cold-weather climates and the iterations of EPA mandates on CMV engines that started in the early 2000’s that caused pre-buying and serious operational complications.
    • The current/future availability of ZEV technology in commercial trucking applications.
    • The impact of the higher cost of ZEV’s for the trucking industry – will consumers be okay with a significant increase in the cost of goods?
    • The lack of infrastructure to encourage ZEV adoption and the concern about the cost of the investments needed to build an acceptable infrastructure.
    • The obvious range issues associated with ZEV’s and the resulting impact on the supply chain – will consumers be okay to wait longer for their goods, or has society become too accustomed to just-in-time deliveries?
    • Batteries – how long will they last in a CMV and what would disposal look like? Are we doing more harm than good given the whole life cycle of battery component mining, production and disposal?

Further, it is not settled science that full-scale ZEV implementation will decrease air pollution. The Manhattan Institute published a report in 2018 called “Short Circuit: The High Cost of Electric Vehicle Subsidies.” In it, they point to an increase in air pollution with increased adoption of ZEV’s due to the impact from increased power generation to run more ZEV’s. As an aside, the study also points to the disproportionate negative impact on the poor due to the public cost to build the infrastructure – estimated to be $100 billion for California alone – and their inability to afford the more expensive ZEV’s.

Then there is the Transportation Climate Initiative and elements of the Green New Deal. Both of these proposals have elements of carbon pricing that are meant to encourage less driving (or at least a reduction in the driving of fossil fuel powered vehicles) by escalating the price of gas and diesel. The proceeds of this tax hike will go towards… well, nobody really knows for sure. There has been an abundance of ideas thrown around like using the added tax money to give taxpayer rebates, to invest it in renewable energy technology, and, right from TCI’s website, to use the added revenue to “advance goals of equity and environmental justice”.

Looking past the natural cynicism that all of these ideas are not yet fully developed, there is rarely any mention of investing in our infrastructure despite this tax revenue largely being generated by highway activities. This lack of definition for what the huge tax increase will be spent on makes it impossible for those who believe in free market principles to support it. Again, our industry believes in cleaner air, but not at the expense of crippling economic impacts that may, or may not, result.

None of this is to say we don’t believe the trucking industry shouldn’t be proactive when it comes to our role in the environment and we know many of our members are voluntarily implementing strategies to reduce their carbon footprint. It’s a good thing that technology advancements are in demand because our social awareness – how our choices impact others – has never been greater. Which is why we believe free market principles should play a significant role in finding solutions to our current and future climate challenges.