OPINION: Diesel trucks are big polluters. Oregon can change that
Our house is on fire. This is not a metaphor.
This past summer, wildfires ravaged the West Coast and Portland experienced some of its highest temperatures ever recorded, costing hundreds of lives and causing irreversible damage to our communities and planet. In just the past two years, we've lost nearly 4,200 homes and buildings in Oregon to wildfire, according to media accounts. These instances are not just "weird weather" — they are climate disasters that will only continue to worsen if our leaders do not take the bold and aggressive climate action we need, and that young activists like myself tirelessly demand.
Right now, Oregon is faced with a decision about one of the most significant threats to our health and climate: black carbon emitted by diesel engines. Transportation is the single largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the state, with trucks, buses and vans putting out 70% of smog pollution, 64% of black carbon (or particulate pollution) and nearly half of climate pollution from transportation, even though they're fewer than 10% of all vehicles on the road.
Before this year is over, however, Oregon should set a new standard to begin reducing these toxic and climate destructive sources of air pollution: rules that would require many more zero-pollution, electric buses, trucks and vans to hit the road in coming years and any new large diesel vehicles to meet strict emission standards for pollution that chokes the air we, and especially communities of color, breathe throughout our cities and neighborhoods.
This week, on Nov. 17, the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission is scheduled to vote on adopting the Advanced Clean Truck and Heavy Duty Omnibus rules. A "yes" vote would be a huge step forward in the fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cutting Oregon's climate pollution from trucks and buses by 50 million metric tons in the years ahead, according to a recent, independent study. That's almost an entire year's worth of climate pollution from everything in our entire state.
Oregon has the opportunity to act now. Adopting this set of policies is easy and the benefits immediate. The rules require an increasing percentage of new medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sales to be zero-emissions, and for those that aren't to be much cleaner than before.
Every diesel truck, van and bus we replace with a zero-smog electric version brings health benefits to local communities, families, workers and truck drivers and is an investment into our future. It means fewer pollution-caused disease and death in our Black, Indigenous and communities of color, fewer students whose academic performance is compromised by missed school days and neurological impacts of breathing bad air, and significantly less contribution to climate change from the biggest source of pollution.
Making this choice now puts Oregon among the first to join a growing movement. Half a dozen states, including all our west coast neighbors, have or are planning to adopt similar clean truck rules this year. Joining them will make our state a leader in addressing climate change by accelerating the transition to electrification across our economy, particularly for trucks, vans and buses which pollute more than their share.
It's up to the decision-makers at the EQC to enact the two Clean Truck rules now. For the rest of us, we must continue to push our leaders at every level to speed the transition to zero-pollution trucks and prioritize investments to decrease pollution in the most burdened communities.
This kind of bold action is our best hope to halt the current trajectory of rising global temperatures. It's exactly the kind of future-forward decision that young people are calling on our leaders to make because we're the ones who will be left to deal with the fallout for decades if action fails to happen now.
It is a low-cost, high-impact action that will pay huge dividends in the years to come — so that when our generation takes over, we still have a fighting chance.
Adah Crandall is a sophomore at Grant High School in Portland. She is an organizer with Portland Youth Climate Strike and Sunrise PDX, focusing on the intersection of transportation justice and climate justice.
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