Sara Wright is transportation program director for Oregon Environmental Council.

WRIGHTThis summer Oregon is experiencing an extended fire season and extreme heat, unlike anything we've ever seen before. Yet, the weather this year may be mild by future standards if we don't take more immediate action to address the climate crisis.

Recently, Gov. Kate Brown signed into law the 100% Clean Energy for All bill, which promises to help reduce the pollution that leads to climate disruption. A crucial next step is to move toward cleaner vans, buses and trucks and do so as fast as possible.

Heavy-duty vehicles are a leading source of air and climate pollution, putting out much more than their fair share. Vans, buses and large trucks are just 10% of all the vehicles on the road, but they account for nearly 25% of the climate pollution from transportation. And transportation is the biggest source of climate pollution in Oregon. In short, converting heavy-duty trucks to cleaner sources of power could knock off a huge chunk of Oregon's overall climate pollution.

Switching buses, vans, and heavy-duty trucks to cleaner power solves other problems too. Most heavy-duty vehicles currently burn diesel fuel, which spews pollution that is linked to higher rates of cancer, heart disease and asthma.

We burn it around our schools. We burn it at construction sites. We burn it on our highways near our homes, and it creates particulate matter that sticks in the lungs and pollutes our air, soil, and water. People with low incomes and people of color are more likely to be exposed to that pollution because of historic policies that limited housing opportunities, and then concentrated industrial activity near the residential areas that are home to those with the fewest opportunities.

But it doesn't have to be this way. The technology for cleaner, electric-powered, zero-emission trucks (from big rigs to box vans) is already here, it's proven to work, and it's affordable. As with many sources of clean energy and clean transportation, it's a matter of putting policies and investments in place to transition faster.

More than 70 different models of zero-emission vans, trucks, and buses are already in use in commercial fleets for companies like PepsiCo and Walmart. Big companies are learning electric trucks are cost-competitive with or cheaper to own than fossil fuel models because they have lower maintenance costs and lower fuel costs over the life of the truck.

With a potential federal infusion of transportation dollars coming, we must focus spending on charging stations like "Electric Island," the first operational, public truck charging station in the nation right here in Oregon. We must leverage state and federal incentives to help delivery, transit and trucking fleets buy new electric trucks and install charging stations.

Oregon should adopt the Advanced Clean Truck Rule and Heavy Duty Low-NOx Rule, which are under consideration now, to make sure many more zero-emission and clean trucks are available. Our policies and investments should prioritize getting diesel pollution out of the most impacted neighborhoods, especially for low-income and Black, Indigenous and communities of color. With Oregon committed to 100% clean electricity, the time is now to create a fleet of heavy-duty vehicles that will use that clean energy and clean up the worst polluting vehicles in our transportation system.

Sara Wright is transportation program director for Oregon Environmental Council. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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