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Why the Transportation Industry Needs an Energy Overhaul

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Emily Folk's picture
Journalist Conservation Folks

Emily Folk is a conservation and sustainability journalist. She focuses primarily on green technology and the impact changes in technology have on climate change. On her blog, Conservation Folks...

  • Member since 2018
  • 40 items added with 137,587 views
  • Mar 23, 2020

Most Americans can't live without some form of transportation. Whether it be buses, trains or their own cars, people depend on vehicles to travel to and from work, the grocery store and various other locations. So it isn't surprising that transportation accounts for nearly 30% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Within this sector, light-duty vehicles and medium- to heavy-duty trucks and buses are responsible for 82% of emissions. These gases contribute to air pollution, global warming, health problems and a slew of other issues. 

Governments and environmental protection agencies are beginning to regulate transportation emissions to reduce the impact of GHGs. However, current modes of transportation don't comply with these more stringent regulations. So innovators in green technology are beginning to rethink fuel options, replacing diesel and fossil fuels with renewables and more efficient engines. 

These eco-friendly initiatives will require a complete overhaul of the nation's transportation industry. However, the benefits will be more than worth it — to both the Earth and public health. 

Emissions Regulations 

Five years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency adopted stricter smog regulations, forcing states to reduce emissions through pollution control. Over the past few years, states have been collecting air quality data and determining their emissions statuses. Now they are devising plans to cut pollution. 

Within the next five years, nearly every state should finally be in compliance with these new guidelines. However, the EPA is allowing California — the region with the worst air quality in the nation — an additional 12 years to meet the new standard. 

Even with this extra time allowance, meeting EPA standards will require a radical transformation of California's transportation system. Most of the change will have to occur within the heavy-duty sector, which transports waste, goods and other large shipments across highways to and from warehouses. Currently, this sector accounts for about 45% of smog in the state. Truck manufacturers might find inspiration in the zero-emissions technologies being within cars in California and elsewhere to combat this high level of pollution.

Electrics and Hybrids 

Installing electric engines in smaller vehicles — and even buses — is one way California and other states are reducing their emissions and complying with federal regulations. These vehicles emit zero carbon and can collect power from renewable energies like hydroelectric, solar and geothermal power. 

While some states, like Washington, are beginning to incorporate electric buses into their transportation system, the charging process requires additional infrastructure. Various regions must build more charging stations and enhance the efficiency of vehicle batteries before a complete transition to electric vehicles can occur.

Hybrid vehicles are another green alternative for public and personal transportation. These run on electricity and gasoline but may also recharge themselves through braking. Now green technology innovators are applying the same hybrid concept to trains and buses. Of course, these greener transportation methods are roughly $300,000 more expensive than diesel-fueled vehicles. However, federal incentives and grant programs can offset the price, allowing more states to adopt more hybrid modes of transportation.

Making Room for Clean Options

What the transportation sector chooses to spend its funds on will determine how sustainable an overhaul it will receive. For instance, if states decide to build additional freeways, more people will undoubtedly purchase and use cars. However, if the sector invests in sidewalks, bike lanes and interconnected cities, people will be more apt to take public transportation, walk or bike to work. 

So, while greener vehicles are worth investing in, there are alternatives to automobiles altogether — at least for people living within metropolitan areas. By companies and governments providing these options to people, they allow individuals more opportunities to forgo their cars and use their own two legs — the cleanest transportation of all. 

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