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Good Climate News: New Clean Car and Truck Standards for New Mexico

Jan 2, 2024 | Blog

Faith and climate advocates speak to the press after the ACCII/ACT hearings

by Ileagh MacIvers

Last month, our affiliate New Mexico Interfaith Power & Light won a huge victory when key state agencies adopted both the Advanced Clean Cars II (ACC II) and Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) standards– rules that help protect our communities, clean up air quality, and safeguard our Sacred Earth. These rules allow New Mexico to become a leader in transportation electrification and our collective clean energy future.

The New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board and the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Air Quality Control Board were able to adopt the ACCII and ACT standards, which were originally created in California, because there are two agencies across the country that work together to establish federal and state vehicle emissions standards: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB). Under the Clean Air Act (CAA), California sought a special waiver from the EPA to set their own, more stringent emissions standards, as smog was already becoming a serious issue in the state by the mid-1960s, long before national clean car standards were created. Other states across the country, such as New Mexico, must follow at least the national standards, but can also choose to adopt the more stringent regulations.

ACC II requires all light-duty vehicles sold in states that have adopted the rule to be 100% electric by 2035, although New Mexico has partially adopted the rule to require 82% electric vehicle sales by 2032. In adopting this set of standards, New Mexico joins a host of other clean transportation leaders including Washington, Oregon, Massachusetts, New York, Virginia, and Vermont. ACC II has two main components: the low emission vehicle (LEV) program and the zero emission vehicle (ZEV) program. The first LEV standards were adopted in 1990 and require automakers to produce gradually cleaner light- and medium-duty vehicles through emission controls. Types of pollutants covered by the LEV program include greenhouse gasses, particulate matter, and nitrogen oxides. The ZEV program requires automakers to sell increasingly more zero-emission and partially zero-emission (plug-in hybrid) light-duty vehicles each year beginning in model year 2026. Sales requirements will begin that year at 35%, build to 68% in 2030, and reach 100% in 2035 (or in the case of New Mexico, 82% in 2032). ACT requires manufacturers to produce zero-emission trucks beginning in 2024 and sets gradually increasing requirements that zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sales reach 55% of Class 2b – 3 truck sales, 75% of Class 4 – 8 straight truck sales, and 40% of truck tractor sales by 2035. ACT provides more flexibility through credits, trading, and other features than ACC II, namely because the development of electric heavy-duty vehicles is less advanced than that of light-duty passenger cars.

ACCII and ACT standards are critical to help mitigate air pollution from burning fossil fuels, which has significant climate and health implications. Fossil fuel pollutants have been linked to “early death, heart attacks, respiratory disorders, stroke, and asthma.” In 2018, Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that fossil fuel pollution led to 350,000 premature deaths in the US alone. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to the destructive impacts of this kind of pollution, as well as communities of color and low-wealth communities, which are more likely to be found near major roadways and freight corridors due to historically racist housing practices. 

Clean air protections are especially important in New Mexico, as New Mexico is the third-highest oil producing state in the country. According to the American Lung Association’s 2023 State of the Air Report, New Mexico is in dire need of clean air action, particularly in oil-producing counties. ALA’s report gave Bernalillo, Dona Ana, Eddy, and San Juan Counties an F grade for smog, with Lea and Sandoval Counties receiving D grades. Rio Arriba county was the only county to receive a grade higher than a C. It is also important to note that while air pollution is somewhat localized to counties with oil and gas production sites, this kind of pollution is likely to travel across the state and even across state lines. 

In addition, New Mexico is experiencing a major uptick in climate change-induced wildfires, which have had devastating impacts on local ecosystems and traditional communities. Alongside such events, the ever-present reality of historic drought and record-breaking heat illustrate that the climate crisis is already here. By limiting fossil fuel pollution, these regulations help mitigate the impacts of climate change-fueled extreme weather events and protect our communities from their effects. 

Overall, the adoption of these robust standards is a huge win for all New Mexicans, and it is due in part to the tireless advocacy of our friends at NMIPL. Congratulations to NMIPL’s staff and volunteers for your moving testimonies at public hearings, strong organizing efforts, and for securing a cleaner air future for everyone. Read NMIPL testimonies here and watch faith leaders discuss their commitment to electric vehicles here.

Happy New Year from all of us at Interfaith Power & Light! We are reinvigorated to work for climate solutions and change the course of climate history across the country. Thank you for your continued support!

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