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By Sam Appel and

Sam Appel is the California policy organizer for BlueGreen Alliance,

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Patricio Portillo, Special to CalMatters

Patricio Portillo is the transportation analyst at Natural Resources Defense Council,

The coronavirus crisis and subsequent economic fallout have challenged California leaders with a series of difficult decisions, but choosing how to vote on the nation’s first electric truck rule shouldn’t be one of them. 

This commonsense, achievable standard will create thousands of clean transportation jobs, inject billions of dollars into the economy and slash cancer-causing pollution. 

The vote to adopt California’s electric trucks rule today should be a no-brainer for our clean air regulators – the public health and economic benefits from putting 300,000 electric trucks on the road by 2035 are just that good. If this commonsense standard gets voted down, there is only one explanation: the California Air Resources Board has shamefully acquiesced to polluter lobbying. 

For months, polluters have tried to use this moment of uncertainty to put profits before people by pushing to halt or delay the electric truck rule. Thankfully, thus far, our leaders have chosen to move forward. Their decision could not be better news for California’s struggling economy. 

The long-term, positive economic impact stemming from the electric truck rule promises to be massive: truck electrification in California could add more than $100 billion to California’s gross state product through 2050 and is projected to support thousands of jobs in manufacturing and construction.

What should be common sense, and often isn’t, is ensuring that these are good, family-supporting, career jobs. To get California’s economy back on track, we must get this right.

Case in point, truck drivers in California are among the most exploited workers, period. The practice of “misclassification,” in which employers avoid paying taxes, wages and benefits by classifying drivers as independent contractors, is rampant in port trucking, package delivery and long-haul trucking. From an environmental and equity perspective, misclassification makes it harder for drivers to upgrade to cleaner trucks, burdens them with compliance costs, and leaves the parent company off the hook.

Ensuring that these drivers earn a living wage without supplemental support from relief programs strengthens our public safety net. And, more good jobs in the burgeoning electric truck market – from drivers to electricians to factory workers – means more money spent in local economies, boosting growth even more. 

But this won’t happen unless we use our public spending to support companies that treat their workers fairly and manufacture and assemble vehicles, batteries and charging equipment in the U.S. With the right guidance and support, these companies will create high-paying jobs with good benefits, utilize skill certifications, hire disadvantaged workers and respect the right to join a union. 

The jobs and public health gains we’ll get from adopting the electric truck standard are exactly what California needs to recover from this pandemic. Bad air is making low-income communities and communities of color more vulnerable to lung diseases like COVID-19. And, despite major air quality improvements, California cities are still plagued by some of the worst air in the nation – and diesel truck pollution is the leading cause of the problem. 

An estimated 70% of the carcinogens filling our lungs come from trucks and heavy-duty vehicles – a burden that falls most heavily on low-income communities and communities of color. These emissions kill more than 1,400 Californians every year and cost our health system about $29 billion annually

California has proven that cleaning up air pollution and tackling climate change can drive economic growth. Our clean technology sector now supports more than half a million jobs statewide. If we pair clean truck rules with smart job policies, we can ensure that environmental progress means family-sustaining wages, a safe work environment, comprehensive benefits and a career path for California workers.

California leaders have the opportunity to build a better future for Californians. A vote for electric trucks is a common sense move that can help us emerge more prosperous from the current public health crisis with cleaner air and better jobs, for all.

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