Electric Vehicles, Executive Insight

We need to listen to the experts: Clean transportation saves lives

We have the power to save thousands of lives and reap hundreds of billions in health and climate benefits, while also reducing air pollution in communities of color that are most vulnerable to air pollution and the effects of climate change.

That happens only if we transition to electric transportation from harmful fuel combustion by 2050, according to the American Lung Association. Last week, the ALA released its sobering but inspiring report, “The Road to Clean Air,” quantifying the impact on public health from electrifying the transportation sector, which currently represents about a third of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Using a variety of transportation and emissions models, as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s public health benefits modeling tools, the ALA determined that widespread transition to zero-emission transportation could add up to $72 billion in avoided health care costs, annually saving approximately 6,300 lives and avoiding more than 93,000 asthma attacks and 416,000 lost work days annually.

When reports like this hit my inbox, I immediately want to understand the potential impact on the customers we serve at Exelon. The numbers are staggering. If our communities transition to clean transportation, we could realize more than $9 billion in avoided health care costs and nearly 800 prevented deaths annually in Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia. Transportation electrification holds the promise of helping us meet environmental goals, reduce carbon footprints, bring life-saving cleaner air for residents, and create economic opportunity through job creation and reduced energy costs.

No summer could better illustrate the urgency of making this transition than that of 2020. Hurricanes and derechos are battering the East and Gulf Coasts and the Midwest. Deadly wildfires rage on the West Coast. Over everything hangs the constant, fatal impact of COVID-19, which attacks the respiratory system. Like air pollution, we know unequivocally that this deadly virus that attacks the respiratory system also disproportionately sickens and kills people of color. We saw over and over this summer that we cannot delay in taking action.

So it was fitting in June that Exelon announced our aggressive goal to electrify 30 percent of our vehicle fleet by 2025 and 50 percent of our fleet by 2030. Hitting that goal potentially avoids more than 65,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from this year through 2030. That’s the carbon-avoidance equivalent of planting and growing 1 million trees for 10 years. Our six Exelon utilities, serving 10 million customers, will make this transition through a combination of fully electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and vehicles with idle mitigation units.

Individual consumer choices are just one part of the equation. The public and commercial sectors must make the shift to electric transportation to truly make a dent in our carbon footprint. We are joining such companies as Amazon, DHL, and IKEA North America, who have made similar commitments within their industries. 

Corporate responsibility commitments like ours to fight climate change must be matched by action at all levels of government, with policy changes that make zero-emission transportation not just possible, but realistic and equitable. That includes ensuring consumers have full access to electric transportation options – including through public transportation, taxis, and ridesharing – as well as charging infrastructure. Additionally, state authority under the Clean Air Act must be protected.

Transportation electrification options and charging infrastructure must be available in all communities, not just the most affluent. Low-income communities bear the brunt of pollution burdens and they deserve equity when it comes to access to and benefits from climate solutions such as electrified transportation.

We talk frequently about our purpose at Exelon: powering a cleaner and brighter future for our customers and communities. It’s not just talk. We have taken tangible steps forward as we work toward and advocate for the desperately needed shift to electrified transportation that the ALA called for this week.

The ALA started the clock, which gives our nation 30 years to make the change happen. But for a child living in a neighborhood filled with transportation-fueled air pollution, we can’t wait another day. Let’s get to work now, together.