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WFAE reporter David Boraks explores how the way we live influences climate change and its impact across the Carolinas. You also can read additional national and international climate news.

Speakers raise concerns about state's shift to electric trucks

091621 Roush electric truck.JPG
David Boraks
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WFAE
The Advanced Clean Trucks rule would apply to medium and heavy duty trucks like this electric Ford F-650 tested in 2021 by Roush Industries in Concord.

People who operate truck fleets will be on the front lines if North Carolina adopts rules this year to get more electric trucks and buses on state roads. In Charlotte Friday, state environmental officials heard some of their concerns about cost, evolving technology, and charging.

About a dozen people were at the meeting at the Central Regional Council, representing private trucking companies, local governments, environmental groups and a vehicle charging network. It was the first in a series of public input sessions on the proposed Advanced Clean Trucks rules, which would require makers of medium-sized and large-sized trucks to sell an increasing number of electric vehicles in the coming years.

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David Boraks
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WFAE
NC Department of Environmental Quality's Randy Strait talked with truck dealer Andrew Hirsch after Friday's Advanced Clean Trucks public meeting in Charlotte.

Transportation is the state's largest source of the pollution that causes global warming, so getting dirty trucks off the road is key to meeting the state's climate goals. But people who sell or operate trucks and buses have questions, much like those about electric cars.

"Initial costs and range. The range is going to be the biggest hurdle to get over," said Ingram Gillam, who works with a food distributor in Hickory.

"I think current trucks go 100 miles, something like that, if they're fully loaded, which, you know, (a) food truck's gonna be fully loaded. And so coordinating that with the DOT rules and trying to get across the state of North Carolina, it presents quite a few challenges," Gillam said.

Gillam says the company may have to buy 30% more trucks than it currently has to account for the shorter distances that electric trucks can currently handle.

Like other electric vehicles, electric trucks are currently more expensive to buy than diesel ones. But they're cheaper to operate and maintain, in part because they don't use diesel fuel. And last year's federal Inflation Reduction Act offers tax credits of up to $40,000 for commercial vehicles, for both private companies and nonprofit or government fleets. Governments or nonprofits will get a direct payment, since they are tax exempt.


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Chris Davis, who helps manage the Charlotte Department of Transportation's vehicles, including newly arrived electric pickups, raised another issue: "Adequate charging infrastructure is my biggest concern." Public chargers will work for some trucks, but not others.

Ben Kessler of ChargePoint, a nationwide vehicle charger network, said the state should develop a strategy to ensure that trucking companies can install chargers at their own fleet yards.

"A lot of the grant programs that we have seen right now that have been promoting medium- and heavy-duty (EVs) have only been focused on publicly accessible infrastructure," Kessler said. "Unfortunately, fleets are not going to have their drivers sit at a charger for 20-30 minutes when they have a load on their back. They want to be doing something productive. So allowing charging to be in these fleet depots, I think, would make a huge difference."

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David Boraks
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WFAE
Zach Pierce, a climate advisor to N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper, explained the Advanced Clean Truck rules at Friday's meeting in Charlotte.

Andrew Hirsch, who works for a Charlotte truck dealership, said he worries there won't be enough electricity to charge all those new electric trucks.

"During Christmas, it was just really cold out, and there were rolling blackouts (in North Carolina). So now we're going to add all of these electric trucks. Has North Carolina considered how we're going to generate that power? And is that power produced with low emissions or zero emissions?" Hirsch asked.

That prompted Zach Pierce, a climate adviser to Gov. Roy Cooper, to note that the Advanced Clean Trucks rules are just one piece of a bigger puzzle state officials are working on. Many related questions are being addressed in the state's broader Clean Transportation Plan. And the transition to carbon-free electricity is addressed in the carbon plan ordered last month by the state utilities commission.

North Carolina would be the eighth state nationwide and the first in the Southeast to adopt ACT rules. Others are California, Oregon, Washington, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Vermont.

The rules would apply to all vehicles over 6,000 pounds, from larger pickups and minivans to tractor-trailers and dump trucks. The rules would not apply to public transit buses, which are covered under other rules, but they would apply to school and private buses.

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NCDEQ Division of Air Quality
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Advanced Clean Trucks sales targets in North Carolina would match those in California and other states, to help manufacturers.

The rules, including sales targets, would be phased in over time and would have to match what other states are doing. California is the only state allowed under federal environmental rules to develop clean air regulations more stringent than federal laws. But other states can match California's rules, as long as they are identical.

North Carolina hopes to adopt the rules this year and they would take effect with the 2027 model year, when 15% to 20% of truck sales would have to be electric vehicles, depending on the size of the vehicle.

The Advanced Clean Trucks rulemaking was mandated in Gov. Cooper's Executive Order 271 last October. And it comes two years after Cooper signed a multi-state agreement that calls for electric trucks and buses to reach 30% of vehicle sales by 2030 and 100% by 2050.

As part of the rulemaking, state officials also will be considering penalties for truck manufacturers that don't meet the sales targets. NCDEQ's Randy Strait said the state will have some flexibility on the size of those penalties. Penalties were not discussed Friday.

Requiring manufacturers to sell a certain percentage of electric vehicles is only half of the equation. State officials say they also will have to decide how to ensure demand for those new trucks. California and other states are considering companion Clean Fleet Rules, which would set targets for fleet managers to buy electric vehicles.

Transportation is North Carolina's largest source of the pollution that causes global warming. While medium-sized and big trucks are only 3.2% of registered vehicles, in the state, they account for a much higher proportion of major pollutants - 16% of carbon dioxide emissions, 26% of nitrogen oxide emissions, 32% of fine-particle pollution, known as PM 2.5.

The governor has also set a goal of getting 1.25 million electric vehicles of all kinds on state roads by 2030. As of this fall, there were about 51,000 fully electric or plug-in hybrids registered, according to the Division of Motor Vehicles.

Some speakers on Friday applauded the shift to electric trucks and buses. Charlotte city staff at the event said requiring electric vehicles would help the city meet its own climate goals, called the Strategic Energy Action Plan.

"We're improving our air quality while we're improving our operational efficiencies. I really believe it'll help with the total cost of ownership and the cost of doing business. So I think it's a real win-win for both our health and our businesses and our citizens," said Charlotte DOT's Chris Davis.

More meetings

NCDEQ will hold several more in-person and online meetings about the trucks plan:

Comments also may be emailed daq.publiccomments@ncdenr.gov with the subject line “Advanced Clean Trucks.” Deadline is Feb. 24, 2023.

More at DEQ.NC.gov/ACT, including an Advanced Clean Trucks fact sheet

Advanced Clean Trucks fact sheet for California

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David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.