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 (GHG), it is not possible today without epic disruption to our economy, supply chains, jobs and quality of life.
Put simply, getting to “zero emission” cannot happen by government edicts. It takes innovation driven by the private sector.
For example, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) ruled trucking companies transporting goods between the state’s seaports and distribution centers (drayage) 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 United States and diesel engines power 76 percent of them. They move 70 percent of the nation's freight.
“Over the last 20 years, emissions from new heavy-duty diesel trucks and buses were reduced by 95 percent for nitrogen oxides (NOx), an ozone precursor, and 90 percent 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 percent of the trucking companies run fleets of fewer than 10 trucks. In 2022, they employed 3.54 million people nationwide.
The population of near-zero emissions diesel technology trucks is growing. They make up 57 percent of all commercial diesel trucks (Class 3-8) on the roads today. That is a 10 percent increase in one year (2022 vs. 2021).
Natural gas is an alternative to diesel and does not compete for electricity with homes and offices, computer server farms, hospitals, and factories.
Trucks running on compressed natural gas (CNG) 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 in the United States of which 25 are located in Washington.
Natural gas powers more than 175,000 vehicles in the United States and 23 million vehicles worldwide. It is already an alternative to gasoline and diesel for heavy and medium-duty trucks such those used for refuse collection, power line repair, and long-distance freight-hauling.
All-electric and hydrogen powered trucks are developing and will eventually integrate into trucking fleets. However, currently 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.
Complicating the problem is while we are taking unprecedented measures and spending more than a trillion dollars to alleviate GHG pollution, China, India, and Russia — the other top emitters of CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide (NOx) — have other priorities.
Collectively, those countries spew more than triple (13.8 million metric tons) the GHG tonnage as our nation. A sizable chunk of China’s GHG stem from coal-fired power stations.
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 columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.