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Delivering Packages–and Pollution

East Peterson-Trujillo, clean vehicles campaigner for Public Citizen

With the holiday shopping season underway, trucks loaded with packages in our neighborhoods aren’t just dropping off presents — they’re also delivering pollution.

Heavy-duty trucks, including the vehicles delivering holiday gifts, are churning out pollution that creates “diesel death zones”. Physicians coined this label because residents living near ports, warehouses, and busy roads are exposed to such high quantities of pollutants that asthma rates and cancer risks are drastically elevated.

Scientists estimate that we lose more than 100,000 lives to the direct effects of air pollution each year. This dangerous public health threat disproportionately harms communities of color, which are exposed to 25% more fine particulate pollution (PM2.5) than white populations. In the U.S., almost ¾ of goods travel by truck, and in many communities, delivery via truck is the only option.

Thankfully, states and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are poised to take action to curb this pollution. Several states have already adopted strong standards requiring manufacturers to produce zero-emission trucks and buses while cleaning up fossil fuel vehicles still on the road, and the EPA is considering clean truck standards to regulate smog- and soot-forming emissions.

Big rig manufacturers appear to be on board, too. Volvo says that by 2030, it will try to make 50% of its heavy-duty truck sales electric. Daimler is boasting about its investments in truck charging infrastructure and touting that its electric Freightliner fleet has driven a million miles. Navistar, owned by Volkswagen, is touting the ability of its electric school buses to slash greenhouse gasses.

Despite their own commitments to cleaner vehicles and the fact that clean air standards will protect millions of people, manufacturers are letting their industry trade group, the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA), try to block these public health safeguards. Truck manufacturers are putting profits and pollution over progress.

The EMA is actively lobbying against rules that will save lives, prevent hospitalizations, and create billions of dollars in health benefits. In a multipronged effort, the EMA

  • testified against the EPA strengthening clean air standards for trucks;
  • testified against California’s clean truck standards;
  • testified against the speedy adoption of California’s heavy-duty vehicle pollution rule; and
  • currently is running a disinformation campaign called “CleanTruckFacts” that pushes to weaken clean truck rules.

While EMA delays rules to stop deadly pollution, its members are touting sustainability. This holiday season, the gift of clean air and a healthy climate are not beyond the reach of Daimler, Volvo, and Volkswagen. These companies must demand that the EMA stop fighting lifesaving rules and publicly support a transition to manufacturing 100% electric trucks by 2035. Until they do so, they’ll remain on our naughty list.



Public Citizen advocates for a healthier and more equitable world by making government work for the people and by defending democracy from corporate greed.

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