Biden administration targets buses and trucks in fight against climate change

Climate change: Get the latest
Climate change: Get the latest

Vice President Kamala Harris unveiled a series of measures Monday that the Biden administration is taking to reduce air pollution and the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. In an event at the White House, where Harris was joined by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, the administration announced two sets of actions: investments in low-emission and zero-emission buses for public transit systems and school districts, and new EPA rules to reduce pollution from trucks.

“Our transportation sector has reached a turning point,” Harris said. “We have the technology to transition to a zero-emission fleet. Our administration is working together, all of us, to make that possibility a reality. We can address the climate crisis and grow our economy at the same time.”

Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg walk toward a podium.
Vice President Kamala Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Monday. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo)

Under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which President Biden signed last fall, the Department of Transportation will spend $1.1 billion in funding this year to help state and local governments buy U.S.-built electric transit buses and other cleaner models.

“In our economy, transportation is the biggest contributor to climate change,” Buttigieg noted on Monday. “So that also means transportation has to be a part of the solution to the climate crisis. Public transit is one of the best ways to do it ... and transit is even better when it’s clean transit.”

Administration officials emphasized that electric and hydrogen-fueled buses and trucks would not only contribute less to climate change but also dramatically reduce local air pollution, particularly in areas with a disproportionate cluster of vehicle exhaust from highways and garages. These areas tend to be lower-income and are more likely to be communities of color.

“There are many communities ... where pollution from heavy-duty trucks and buses has made the air poisonous,” Harris said. “Imagine that they produced zero emissions.”

On the same front, the EPA issued a proposed rule on Monday that would reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from heavy-duty vehicles. It also sets stronger greenhouse gas emissions standards for some heavy-duty-vehicle categories. The agency projects that the rule, if fully implemented, would annually save roughly 2,000 lives and prevent 18,000 cases of childhood asthma.

The EPA is also awarding $17 million to fund electric zero-emission and low-emission school buses under existing programs, although that pales in comparison to the $5 billion for cleaner school buses from the infrastructure law that will start to become available later this year.

The Cross Bronx Expressway in NYC is packed with cars and trucks.
Cars and trucks on the Cross Bronx Expressway, a stretch of highway in New York City that is often choked with traffic and contributes to pollution and poor air quality. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

“EPA’s two announcements today are about seizing the opp that tech presents in driving towards a cleaner, healthier, more just future,” Regan said.

Transportation accounts for 29 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The next largest sector is electricity generation, at 25 percent.

It is worth noting, however, that public transit plays only a small role in American transportation patterns. Even before the pandemic devastated mass transit ridership, more than 80 percent of commutes in the country were made in private vehicles.

Global temperatures are on the rise and have been for decades. Step inside the data and see the magnitude of climate change.

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