The Biden administration’s strictest-ever emissions standards for passenger cars have been finalized. What is getting less attention are the burdensome standards released on Good Friday for “heavy-duty highway vehicles,” such as semi-trucks and buses, that will require more than 60% of new urban delivery trucks to be zero-emissions by 2032.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates this new rule would require “roughly 30% of heavy-heavy-duty vocational trucks would need to be zero-emission by 2032 and 40% of regional day cabs.”

The Associated Press is quick to remind its readers that “the rules apply to manufacturers, and while it’s up to manufacturers to choose how to comply, they are widely expected to lean heavily on battery-powered vehicles.” The Biden administration knows that—how else could a manufacturer reasonably be expected to comply with such a strict standard? (There is some room for internal combustion trucks that use hydrogen fuel instead, but building a currently non-existent hydrogen infrastructure poses a challenge and may not spare emissions, either).

As I explained for the consumer EV standard here at IWF, fuel economy standards don’t mean that an individual truck gets more “miles per gallon”:

Fuel economy standards are met through average fuel efficiency across an automaker’s fleet of new vehicles, not individual vehicles. Rather than incrementally improving fuel efficiency across all vehicles in an automaker’s fleet, manufacturers simply ramp up EV production.

An electric trucking industry simply isn’t ready to spring up overnight. The Wall Street Journal editorial board noted that “EVs make up less than 1% of U.S. heavy-duty truck sales, and nearly all are in California, which heavily subsidizes and mandates their purchase.” 

Truckers also recognize the rule’s infeasibility. FreightWaves reports:

Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association President Todd Spencer believes the rules create “unworkable” requirements. Spencer said, “This administration appears more focused on placating extreme environmental activists who have never been inside a truck than the small business truckers who ensure that Americans have food in their grocery stores and clothes on their backs.’

The Biden administration is deluding itself if it doesn’t anticipate problems like limited range, time spent charging, and lighter loads won’t add up to needing more expensive electric trucks to deliver the same amount of goods. More trucks mean more congestion, and trucks laden with heavy batteries or large hydrogen tanks will also lead to more wear and tear on the roads. Those costs will inevitably be passed to consumers—and that’s before thinking about taxpayer dollars subsidizing charging infrastructure and the purchase price of EV trucks.

The climate benefit is dubious as well. An electric vehicle is only as “zero-emission” as the electricity used to charge it, and wind and solar only comprise about 5.6% of 2023 energy consumption. Mining and processing critical minerals for vehicle batteries, as well as storage batteries for intermittent technology like wind and solar, are typically done overseas, and not usually with environmentally-friendly techniques.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board deserves the final word on the potential environmental impact of the trucking emissions standards:

EPA projects its rule will “avoid” one billion metric tons in CO2 emissions from 2027 through 2055—about as much as emissions from China and India rose last year alone. The truck mandate will do nothing to reduce global temperatures.

The EPA’s emissions standards for trucking are even more fanciful than its standards for passenger vehicles.