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Illinois should join other states in pushing for electrification of large vehicles

Trucks powered by diesel engines release dangerous particulates, nitrogen oxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere.

Diesel truck engines are cleaner than they were when this photo was taken in 1992, but they still are a source of air pollution.
Sun-Times Library

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have signed a pact to move toward replacing medium and large diesel- or gasoline-powered trucks with electric models.

Illinois is not on the list of signatories, but it should be. Gov. J.B. Pritzker should ink the agreement, which is called a memorandum of understanding.

Large truck traffic is growing steadily in the Chicago area as the metropolis becomes an increasingly important shipping hub. Warehouses are springing up throughout the south suburbs and in the city. Trucks and buses powered by diesel engines release particulates, nitrogen oxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere.

Particulates from diesel vehicles can lead to decreased lung function, irritation of the airways, coughing and difficulty breathing. The emissions can be particularly dangerous for people with asthma and diabetes. And in some urban communities, all that heavy vehicle traffic just compounds air quality problems from factories.

Diesel engines are much cleaner than they were years ago, but still not as clean as electric motors. Moreover, as they age, even newer diesel engines emit more pollutants. And pollution controls can be tampered with to improve road performance. Last year the U.S. EPA found that emissions control systems had been illegally tampered with in more than half a million diesel pickup trucks.

While only 4% of the vehicles on the roads are trucks and buses, they spew out 25% of the greenhouse gases that come from transportation.

On Friday, the Chicago Transit Authority announced six prototype electric buses are on the roads. Some 70 models of electric trucks and buses are now on the market, and more are on the drawing boards. But a public policy push is needed to ensure that those are the models that people and companies prefer to buy.

The memorandum of understanding, which is not binding, calls for 30% of new truck and bus sales to be zero-emission by 2030 and 100% zero-emission by 2050.

It’s a worthy goal. Illinois should get on board.

The CTA plans to buy a total of 23 electric buses at a cost of about $900,000 each.
Chicago Transit Authority

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