In August 2021, President Bident signed Executive Order 14037, envisioning American leadership in clean cars and trucks and aspiring to make half of all new vehicles sold in the U.S. zero-emissions vehicles by 2030. Careful development and deployment of zero-emissions and EV infrastructure, as well as high emissions standards, is important for all American communities, as well as for our economic competitiveness, food security, energy security, and national security. Nowhere is more important for these connections than rural America.
While there has been a significant focus on the transition of urban transportation systems, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has also rightly recognized the need to establish the Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success (ROUTES) to provide technical assistance and other resources that address disparities in rural transportation infrastructure. Since 20 percent of Americans and almost 70 percent of America’s road miles are in rural areas, they deserve special attention in the zero-emissions and EV transition. Rural roads and bridges have unique safety and infrastructure maintenance challenges, but they are essential to transporting a variety of goods, including agricultural products and energy commodities. According to the Department of Agriculture, trucking carries 70% of agricultural and food products and makes up 30% of all ton-miles moved on the U.S. transportation system, so the emissions standards for these vehicles have a huge impact on achieving national net-zero goals and improving air quality. More than three-fourths of the country’s population lives in a major trucking corridor, making them particularly vulnerable to the nitrogen oxide and other pollution emitted by heavy-duty trucks that are carrying our nation’s goods. As such, ensuring that these trucks have the highest emissions standards is important for the individuals who drive them as well as for the rural communities they drive through.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, those living in small towns and rural areas stand to benefit the most from the EV transition and higher emissions standards: aside from the lower fuel and maintenance costs for individuals, rural communities are projected to experience several other economic and health benefits. Combined refueling stops and new EV manufacturing opportunities are likely to yield economic development, and a reduction in tailpipe emissions and brake dust pollution will result in community health benefits, including fewer asthma attacks.
Even though the EV transition has clear benefits, range anxiety—concerns over EV battery life and charging deserts—as well as cold weather range loss are a justified and persistent concern for rural communities. But next generation battery technology is in development, and the rural transition to EVs remains a priority for several government entities, including USDA, which calls it “a non-negotiable modernization for forward-thinking farmers, ranchers, rural business owners, and residents who understand that a sustainable, profitable future centers on renewable energy technology.” Similarly, DOT recently announced $1.2 billion the Appalachian Development Highway System, as well as A Toolkit for Planning and Funding Rural Electric Mobility Infrastructure specifically targeted at addressing EV infrastructure concerns and assisting rural areas with the EV transition. Furthermore, funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will invest $7.5 billion in EV infrastructure over the next several years, and the federal government has also opened several other rural specific funding opportunities. Likewise, in late 2022, as part of the Clean Trucks Plan, the Environmental Protection Agency provided additional support for rural communities with the strongest-ever heavy-duty truck emissions rules from which rural communities surely stand to benefit. The EV transition will take time plan and implement, but as the backbone of America, rural communities are being positioned for success.
Climate Security in Focus is a blog series dedicated to exploring key elements of climate security that impact American interests both at home and abroad. The series aims to examine specific aspects of climate security issues in order to better understand the challenges, facilitate conversation, and generate ideas.