There is an axiom: Don’t let “the perfect” get in the way of the good.
That is important to remember when it comes to improving our air quality.
While climate activists want to banish all fossil fuels to control greenhouse gas, it isn’t possible today without epic disruption to our economy, supply chains, jobs, and quality of life.
Simply, getting to “zero emission” cannot happen by government edicts. It takes innovation driven by the private sector.
The California Air Resources Board ruled trucking companies transporting goods between the state’s seaports and distribution centers could no longer register new diesel rigs and must retire existing diesels within 18 years.
There are more than 15 million commercial vehicles registered in the U.S., and diesel engines power 76% of them. They move 70% of the nation’s freight.
“Over the last 20 years, emissions from new heavy-duty diesel trucks, buses, were reduced by 95% for nitrogen oxides, an ozone precursor, and 90% for particulate emissions,” the Diesel Technology Forum reports. “Today’s trucks are so low in emissions that it would take 60 new trucks to generate the same emissions as a single truck manufactured in 1988.”
The American Trucking Association calculates that 96% of the trucking companies run fleets of fewer than 10 trucks. In 2022, they employed 3.5 million people nationwide.
The population of near-zero emissions diesel technology trucks is growing. They make up 57% of all commercial diesel trucks on the roads today, including a 10% increase in 2022 from 2021.
Natural gas is an alternative to diesel and doesn’t compete for electricity with homes and offices, computer server farms, hospitals, and factories.
Trucks running on compressed natural gas provide horsepower, acceleration, and cruise speed comparable to diesel and gasoline engines.
Next to gas and diesel, natural gas also has the greatest number of refueling stations. As of 2022, more than 800 CNG fueling stations were operating in the U.S., 25 of which are located in Washington.
Natural gas powers more than 175,000 vehicles in the U.S. and 23 million vehicles worldwide.
All-electric and hydrogen-powered trucks are developing and will eventually integrate into trucking fleets. Currently, however, electric big trucks are three times more expensive to purchase than diesel and natural gas versions. They cost up to $500,000 and many have shorter driving ranges and smaller load capacities. Replacing diesel and gas trucks is expensive even when federal and state subsidies are added.
They require five to seven hours to recharge batteries whereas diesel and natural gas trucks can fill up in 10 to 15 minutes and drive another 500 miles. To lengthen driving ranges, electric trucks need additional batteries which add weight and lessen load capacity. That puts more trucks on the highways.
While we are taking unprecedented measures and spending more than $1 trillion to alleviate greenhouse gas pollution, China, India, and Russia—the other top emitters of CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide—have other priorities.
Collectively, those countries spew more than triple the greenhouse gas tonnage our nation emits.
Our country must be positioned to compete globally. While the long-term focus needs to be “zero emissions,” it will be achieved by innovation, not hasty government regulation.
Paraphrasing a recent Wall Street Journal editorial: Let us not regulate first and think later.
Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer, and retired president of the Association of Washington Business. He now lives in Vancouver, Washington, and can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.
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