Environment

9 Reasons Why California's Electric Buses and Trucks Can Help the Environment and Poor Communities

Electric buses and trucks can help clean the air and give a big economic boost to communities most in need.

MINNEAPOLIS - AUGUST 15: Hybrid Electric Bus shows Minneapolis' commitment to clean, lower emissions, transportation August 15, 2009 in Minneapolis.
Photo Credit: miker / Shutterstock.com

When most people think of electric vehicles, we think of cars, like Teslas, Chevy Volts and Nissan Leafs. But trucks and buses are going electric, too, and the impact on both our air and our economy could be huge.

The Union of Concerned Scientists and the Greenlining Institute recently joined forces to analyze the growing electric truck and bus industry, producing the report "Delivering Opportunity: How Electric Buses and Trucks Can Create Jobs and Improve Public Health in California." While we focused on California, where electric buses and trucks are taking off rapidly, what we found has major implications for the whole country. Here are nine things you need to know about electric trucks and buses.

1. Transportation is the largest contributor to global warming in California and nationwide.

Including carbon pollution from refining petroleum products, transportation accounts for more than 50 percent of global warming emissions in California, and the transportation sector recently overtook power plants as the largest contributor to climate change nationwide.

2. Trucks and buses form a major part of our air pollution problem.

Heavy-duty vehicles are the single largest source of smog-forming pollution in California. They also emit more particulate matter than all of the state’s power plants. Oh, and they make up 7 percent of the state’s global warming emissions—an amount projected to increase as freight shipments grow.

3. Poor communities bear the brunt of air pollution from transportation.

Poor communities disproportionately suffer from exposure to traffic-related pollution because they are more likely than wealthier neighborhoods to be near busy roads and highways. Breathing lung-damaging exhaust from vehicles on a daily basis leads to higher rates of pollution-related diseases such as cancer and heart attacks. Race matters, too: Even for people in the same socioeconomic class, people of color are more likely than whites to be exposed to pollution from cars, trucks and buses.

Proterra Manufacturing Facility, Greenville, South Carolina. Proterra makes zero-emission, battery-electric buses that help fleet operators eliminate fossil fuel dependency and reduce costs. The facility in South Carolina complements Proterra's battery engineering R&D and manufacturing in Burlingame, California, and a West Coast bus manufacturing plant in the City of Industry, California.

4. Electric trucks and buses are cleaner than diesel and natural gas vehicles.

Electric vehicles have zero tailpipe emissions, meaning you won’t have to gulp pollution while waiting for the bus or walking down the street. When you put together global warming emissions, smog forming emissions and particulate matter, electric vehicles powered by clean electricity have the lowest emissions compared to any other vehicle technology, including natural gas. The clean air benefit continues even when you look at “life cycle” emissions from electricity generation and hydrogen production.

And these clean vehicles will only get cleaner: California will get at least half of its electricity from renewable resources by 2030, has virtually no coal power in the state and will end contracts for coal power imported from other states by 2025. California also requires that at least 33 percent of hydrogen must be produced using renewable energy, a standard the state already exceeds. Bottom line: We’re blazing a path toward clean power that other states can follow.

5. Electric trucks and buses are way more energy efficient.

Depending on the type of vehicle, electric trucks and buses are up to four times more efficient than diesel and natural gas vehicles, meaning that for the same amount of energy used to power a vehicle, the electric vehicle will travel up to four times as far. This can lead to significant savings in fuel costs.

6. Electric truck and bus technology is here and ready to clean the air today.

This isn’t a pie-in-the-sky future dream. Battery-powered electric trucks and buses have ranges over 100 miles. One company recently announced a transit bus with a 350-mile range. Fuel cell trucks and buses have long had ranges over 200 miles. While these vehicles may cost more to purchase, reduced fuel and maintenance costs mean the total cost of ownership of electric trucks and buses is becoming competitive with traditional technologies. Electric trucks and buses can accelerate and climb hills as well or better than diesel and natural gas vehicles. They’re quieter, too.

7. The heavy-duty EV industry is creating good jobs.

Some of the leading electric bus and truck manufacturers in California pay assemblers $13-$20 per hour to start, considerably above typical pay for assembly jobs in California. These jobs can also lead workers into higher-skilled, well-paid occupations. When we asked representatives of heavy-duty EV companies what jobs were likely to grow the most if demand for heavy-duty EVs increases, they unanimously identified assembler positions. Increased investment in this technology should spur growth of good, well-paying jobs.

8. This industry can be a great source of jobs for underserved communities—if workers get the training and skills they need.

Leading electric bus and truck companies in California typically require one to three years of related experience for assemblers, a higher standard than assembly jobs in general manufacturing. Jobs in EV manufacturing, charging and maintenance require significant electrical skills. These requirements can be barriers to employment for people from low-income communities. But good, readily accessible training programs can overcome this barrier and make sure those most in need of good jobs will get a fair shot.

9. It will take conscious effort to bring workers from underserved communities into the electric truck and bus workforce.

Right now we don’t have enough training programs accessible to those who need them. Manufacturers can help fix this by partnering with workforce training organizations and community colleges to establish pathways for training and certifying workers from these communities and placing them in quality jobs. This emerging industry needs effective, equitable workplace policies and programs to ensure opportunity for all.

You may not hear much about electric trucks and buses, but they’re here and growing. In the coming years, they can help clean the air we all breathe and give a big economic boost to communities most in need.

Read the full report here.

Jimmy O’Dea is a vehicles analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Joel Espino is environmental equity legal counsel at The Greenlining Institute.

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