Author: Craig Segal        Published: 3/13/2024      Evergreen Action

 newly announced strategy makes building out the electric truck charging infrastructure we need possible—bringing clean air to communities long-harmed by freight pollution.

 

Key Takeaways

  • In March 2024, the Biden administration announced its National Zero-Emission Freight Corridor Strategy. This plan will coordinate and accelerate billions in cross-sector investments to build the charging infrastructure needed to bolster our grid, electrify trucks, and achieve a completely zero-emission freight network by 2040.
  • It’s a huge deal, representing the largest-ever coordinated investment in cleaning up our freight supply chain.
  • The outcome of decades-long advocacy from frontline communities and groups like Evergreen working closely with the White House, this plan will cut pollution, create tens of thousands of jobs, catalyze private-sector investment, and help companies meet pollution reduction targets.
  • It will bring clean air and massive health benefits to the predominantly Black, Brown, and low-income communities living near port and freight infrastructure.

 

Heavy-duty vehicles are the engine of our economy and supply chains, but the dirty fuels they are burning are literally killing us. More than 72 million people in the U.S.—predominantly low-income and BIPOC communities—live and work near trucking routes. That’s 72 million Americans forced to breathe in freight pollution so dangerous that community groups have dubbed these neighborhoods “diesel death zones.”

A recent announcement by the White House aims to address this decades-long injustice and bring cleaner air, hundreds of thousands of jobs, and unprecedented investment to communities across the country. The Biden administration released a holistic, multi-phase roadmap to decarbonize the freight system and tackle this pollution, starting at the major sources and working outward. The four-part plan starts with priority locations to deploy charging infrastructure for heavy-duty vehicles where electrification can have the greatest climate, public health, and economic impact and builds up to ​​a fully zero-emission freight grid by 2040 by the final phase, Phase 4.

The administration also announced ongoing commitments to direct federal funds toward the most burdened areas. Together, these investments will catapult us toward our clean energy future, enabling the biggest coordinated federal investment ever in electrifying the freight supply chain that underpins our economy.

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Phase 4 of the National Zero-Emission Freight Corridor Strategy: In the final phase of the Strategy, the vast majority of the NHFN is prioritized to support expanded private investment that enables ubiquitous access to MHDV charging and hydrogen refueling along corridors east to west and north to south. Joint Office of Energy and Transportation

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Phase 4 of the National Zero-Emission Freight Corridor Strategy: In the final phase of the Strategy, the vast majority of the NHFN is prioritized to support expanded private investment that enables ubiquitous access to MHDV charging and hydrogen refueling along corridors east to west and north to south. Joint Office of Energy and Transportation

This plan might sound familiar. It’s the result of decades of advocacy work led by frontline communities and close partnership between groups, like Evergreen, and the Biden administration to find a solution. Recently, Evergreen and movement partners called on the White House to create a national strategy for freight electrification in coordination with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Department of Energy (DOE), and alongside EPA’s final heavy-duty vehicle rule. We asked for a coordinated, whole-of-government approach that would combine strong rules with smart investments by using existing Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) funding to build out our nation’s heavy-duty vehicle charging infrastructure. And champions in Congress, representing millions of people, repeatedly raised this issue, too.

This collective advocacy worked.

Now, the White House is moving forward with an approach that aligns with analysis from the non-partisan International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) that concluded we don’t need to build all the infrastructure, all at once. 75 percent of heavy truck traffic travels on just 4 percent of our roads. Electrifying just 1,000 miles of road across three key corridors in California and Texas would create enough infrastructure to meet EPA’s proposed heavy-duty vehicle rule (also called the “Phase 3” rule). After electrifying the most heavily used freight corridor segments, the administration will turn its attention toward connecting key corridors, expanding the network, and then ultimately completing the network by 2040.

There are billions of dollars on the table—and with focused attention on the biggest, high-priority ports and coordination led by the White House—there’s nothing standing in the way of electrifying key trucking and freight corridors,  cleaning up deadly pollution from communities, and positioning the U.S. as a leader in the global economy.

What Is the Biden Administration’s New National Zero-Emission Freight Corridor Strategy? 

The White House announcement does what many climate and environmental justice advocates have been calling for: It sets the stage for fully zero-emission trucking by 2040 by coordinating and disseminating the billions in available federal funds to strategically build out charging infrastructure where it’s most needed—and can do the most good. To clean up the air in communities that have long lived in the smog-filled shadows of dirty fossil fuel-run transportation infrastructure, we need more zero-emission trucks, buses, and locomotives on our roads, on our tracks, and in our ports.

To do this efficiently and in a way that maximizes immediate impact, we need a rapid build-out of charging infrastructure—and in the right places. This is the investment signal the private sector needs and makes electrification practically feasible by aiming funds in key ports and freight corridors. Targeting these investments will help build a more robust supply chain—cutting fuel and shipping costs and increasing the production of electric vehicles. Electric vehicles are cheaper to run in the long term, and electrification makes the U.S. more competitive globally.

This strategy, which optimizes federal funding for maximum impact and cost-efficiency, will allow us to radically change the way our supply chains operate, while saving money, cutting climate pollution, and prioritizing the health of frontline communities. And this plan is a living document. With regular updates in the offing, this is the start of an ongoing national effort.

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An electric truck charging at California’s first public, direct current fast charger at a busy truck stop just north of the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in California. © 2023 California Energy Commission/Flickr CC BY 2.0 

Why Is This Plan a Win for Our Health, Climate, and Jobs? 

Public Health

Diesel engines, which heavy-duty vehicles like semi-trucks and locomotives often run on, create a specific, especially nefarious category of pollutants called diesel particulate matter (PM). Composed of practically unpronounceable chemicals and compounds, diesel PM can penetrate deep into the lungs and bloodstream, causing a cascade of medical maladies from birth defects to heart and lung disease to premature death. And the truth is that other combustion fuels used in some trucks, including natural gas and hydrogen, are dirty, too. Without zero-emission trucks, millions of lives are at risk.

Look at the map of the port of Los Angeles—one of the port communities prioritized for freight electrification—and you’ll see the criss-crossed network of essential community infrastructure like schools and homes perfectly and tragically overlaps with high levels of pollution, PM, asthma, and poverty. This means communities with the least resources are facing the heaviest pollution burden. No one should have to live or work in such deadly conditions.

Estimates from the American Lung Association show that adopting policies to advance zero-emission trucks by 2050 would lead to tens of thousands of lives saved, 1.75 million fewer asthma attacks, and $735 billion in public health benefits thanks to cleaner air. This newly introduced plan gets us there 10 years earlier, translating into even more lives protected and massive health benefits to the predominantly Black, Brown, and low-income communities living along these freight corridors.

Climate

Transportation is the leading source of greenhouse gas and air pollution in the U.S—and heavy-duty vehicles produce a disproportionate amount of that pollution. While large medium- and heavy-duty vehicles make up only 10 percent of the total vehicles on the road, they are responsible for the majority of hazardous air pollutants (like PM) and over a quarter of U.S. climate pollution.

To meet President Biden’s goal of cutting climate pollution economy-wide by 50-52 percent by 2030, we need to tackle pollution from the biggest source. The freight system is at the core of our economy, and electrifying it means keeping up with demand while cutting pollution that’s harming the health of our communities and our planet.

Business and Jobs

This announcement creates a virtuous cycle of investment. Tens of billions in federal investment will unlock tremendous private-sector spending into freight electrification and the jobs surrounding it.

The heavy-duty manufacturing industry is already experiencing an investment boom catalyzed by the IRA and IIJA. The new national freight strategy takes this a step further by coordinating and channeling these investments directly into states. Of the investments announced so far, states like Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Michigan each stand to benefit from more than $10 billion in investment and the creation of more than 110,000 new jobs each. Beyond this, an estimated $30 billion in investment has been committed to build out charging infrastructure nationwide.

These investments will create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the clean energy economy, helping communities design and literally build the healthy, sustainable future they deserve. And moving forward, Evergreen plans to work alongside labor leaders to help make sure those developing jobs are good-paying, career-track ones.

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Transportation is the leading source of greenhouse gas pollution in the U.S. EPA, 2021

Accelerating to a Fully Electrified Freight System

This announcement from the Biden administration is a major step toward decarbonizing the U.S. freight system and cutting pollution in ports and along highways. But, as is often the case, there’s still work to be done—and we must keep on trucking. We’ll need to fully implement strong state and federal standards for new trucks, and there’s more work necessary to clean up existing fleets and freight centers, as well as other heavy-duty vehicles. But, none of this future work would even be possible without the essential charging infrastructure and coordinated investment this plan provides.

Today, we can celebrate a clear win: a national strategy to clean up the freight sector at the heart of our economy and a massive investment in healthier communities. It realizes the promise of the IRA—cutting pollution, creating jobs, ensuring benefits go to those most hard-hit, and, ultimately, contributing to a more sustainable and resilient transportation system. It’s time to put this plan into action, break away from the legacy of a polluting supply chain, and deliver clean air to communities.


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