White House unveils steps to clean up trucks, buses

Cutting heavy-duty vehicle emissions is a key component of the administration’s goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050

Heavy-duty vehicles such as buses and trucks make up nearly one-quarter of all U.S. transportation greenhouse gas emissions, according to the administration. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Heavy-duty vehicles such as buses and trucks make up nearly one-quarter of all U.S. transportation greenhouse gas emissions, according to the administration. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 7, 2022 at 4:18pm

The Biden administration Monday launched a multipronged effort aimed at speeding the transition to cleaner trucks and buses, proposing a rule and announcing spending to replace diesel trucks and buses with electric and low-emission vehicles.

While the focus on low- and no-emissions technology is nothing new — it was a centerpiece of last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law — the launch of multiple initiatives on a single day was designed to highlight the vehicle transition, a key component of the administration’s broader goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and stave off the worst impacts of climate change.

The administration argues that heavy-duty vehicles such as buses and trucks make up nearly one-quarter of all U.S. transportation greenhouse gas emissions. Such vehicles are also the largest contributor of nitrogen oxides that are known to cause asthma, heart and lung disease, and other serious respiratory issues.

Nitrogen oxides were a centerpiece of the administration’s Monday announcement, with the White House issuing a proposed rule that would reduce their emissions from heavy-duty vehicles and set stronger standards limiting greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide from them. NOx emission regulations for trucks were last updated more than 20 years ago, and the administration argues that fully implemented, the rule will save roughly 2,000 lives annually, eliminate 18,000 cases of childhood asthma and lead to 1.1 million fewer missed days of school.  

At a White House event featuring Vice President Kamala Harris, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Transit Administrator Nuria Fernandez, the administration also announced the release of more than $3 billion to encourage the transition, including $1.1 billion out of a total of $5.5 billion for low- and no-emission transit vehicles. The administration also announced an additional $372 million under a bus and bus facilities program as well as $2.2 billion in funding for 35 transit agencies in 18 states through last year's COVID-19 relief law.

"Our transportation sector has reached a turning point," Harris said during a White House event Monday. "We are all in the midst of a turning point. We have the technology to transition to a zero-emission fleet."

Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said the announcements represent "historic investments in cleaning up our dirtiest engines in the transportation sector."

'Low-no'

The “low-no” program supports states and local governments in their purchase of U.S.-built electric and clean-transit models. The $5.5 billion in the bipartisan infrastructure law represented a tenfold increase in low- and no-emission transit vehicles over the previous five years.

The administration also announced some $17 million to replace old diesel-powered school buses, including $7 million through the COVID-19 relief law specifically for that effort in disadvantaged communities. The remainder is to be released through the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act School Bus Rebate Program. 

Those dollars will be supplemented eventually by an additional $5 billion in funding through the infrastructure law. The first tranche of that money will become available in the next few months.

Separately, the Department of Energy is partnering with industry to expand zero-emission truck technology through the SuperTruck 3 Program, with $127 million in funding focused on reducing costs as well as improving the durability of hydrogen and battery-electric trucks. 

Also on Monday, the administration announced new project eligibility for the Port Infrastructure Development Program, which is aimed at advancing clean port equipment like electric vehicle charging infrastructure for drayage trucks, cargo equipment and harbor craft. The bipartisan bill included a total of $17 billion for ports and waterways. 

Finally, the administration announced that the General Services Administration is doubling the amount of zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicle models available to federal agencies. The ultimate goal is to achieve 100 percent zero-emission vehicle acquisitions by 2035.