When we think about transportation, we often think about how we personally get around — but cleaning up how goods are moved will have an outsized impact on our health and our climate. Semi-trucks do a lot of short-haul trips known as “drayage” to move freight from cargo ships to warehouses and rail yards. Trucks performing drayage go back and forth in communities near ports, contributing to the climate crisis and harming our health. The Legislature should take steps to address this pollution this session.

Right now, all of these trucks run on diesel, and they are often old. As a result, trucks are the second largest contributor to the climate emissions at the ports of Seattle and Tacoma. And according to a Washington State University study, drayage trucks lead to the most concentrated toxic impact on local health.

We can see these health impacts on the Washington Environmental Health Disparities Map, which clearly shows that near-port communities are pollution hot spots. But we don’t need to look at a map online to know this: We can all see, hear and smell the fumes from these trucks — pollution that harms those in the vicinity, including drivers themselves. Take the 11th Legislative District in South King County as an example. It sits between the ports of Tacoma and Seattle, is by Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Boeing Field, and is intersected by three major highways. We just need to look around to see the impact of transportation pollution. Unfortunately, residents in this district experience some of the worst air quality in the state.

Electrifying these large vehicles is critical for protecting our health and achieving our climate goals. Research shows that nearly 100% of all vehicles, including heavy trucks, must be zero emissions by 2050. And by 2035, at least a quarter of all heavy trucks in Washington must be clean. We have work to do: Right now there are only eight zero-emissions trucks in our state, and none are engaged in drayage.

The good thing is, we don’t need to look far for clean trucks — some are built here in Renton by Kenworth Truck Company. But right now these trucks are sent to other states that provide incentives. We would like to see locally-made trucks on the roads here as well.

We have made great strides in our state and region in laying the groundwork for cleaning up transportation, with the Clean Fuel Standard, the Climate Commitment Act and the Advanced Clean Trucks Rule. But we need state investments to make sure we see the results we need in our communities as quickly as possible. The Move Ahead Washington transportation package will invest historic amounts in transit, safe ways to walk and bike, ferry electrification and on-road transportation electrification, and we expect the Legislature to send this to the governor’s desk for his signature.


More than $5 billion dollars in funding comes from the Climate Commitment Act, which must fund projects that will help achieve our state’s greenhouse gas limits. A significant part of achieving these climate targets will be investing a lot more in electrification of larger vehicles. The Legislature can start this year by funding a voucher program for zero-emissions drayage trucks that can be expanded in the future. Truck owner-operators would be able to apply to the state Department of Commerce for a voucher that would cover a significant portion of the upfront vehicle cost, allowing them to buy zero-emissions trucks rather than the norm of used diesel vehicles.

The latest climate science tells us we are in an emergency, but we knew that already; we’ve seen the record heavy rains, breathed the wildfire smoke and sweated in the unprecedented heat wave. Holding off on the necessary investments to clean up the trucks running through our communities by just a few years will have consequences. We must act now.

We must invest now in clean transportation to achieve a healthy future — and that includes cleaning up big trucks.