with Paulina Firozi

More than a dozen states are teaming up to boost sales of pickup trucks, school buses and big rigs that run entirely on electricity and do not pump climate-warming pollution into the air.

Leaders from Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and 10 other states, along with the District of Columbia, say they will try to make sure every new medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sold within their borders is fully electric by the middle of the century. 

The agreement is not legally binding, and it promises to send a fleet of electric trucks onto the road before the technology to do so is fully developed. But it is the latest sign of Democratic-controlled states taking steps to combat climate change in the absence of federal action from the Trump administration. 

The state-level moves are also an effort to diminish a source of air pollution that disproportionately chokes poor and minority neighborhoods, which often abut the highways on which diesel-guzzling trucks carry freight.

“We want clean air, reliable transportation, better health outcomes and cost effective climate solutions,” said Katie Dykes, commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in Connecticut, one of the states that signed the agreement.

The states say they will work together to adopt policies meant to encourage the sale of electric commercial vehicles and the construction of charging stations for them.

Possible steps the states may take include giving rebates or tax breaks to buyers of heavy-duty electric vehicles, requiring cities to switch to electric transit buses and encouraging utilities to install charging stations for large commercial vehicles.

The goal is to have every delivery van, box truck and other large commercial vehicle sold in those states — which represent about a third of the U.S. market — be electric by 2050. Their interim target is 30 percent of sales be for zero-emissions trucks by 2030.

The agreement leaves the details of achieving all of that to the states. One crucial question for each jurisdiction is whether to follow in the footsteps of California — by far the most aggressive when it comes to cutting tailpipe pollution.

Last month, the liberal bastion became the first in the nation to require auto manufacturers to sell electric trucks. More than half of automakers' truck sales need to be of zero-emission vehicles there by 2035. 

Several major automakers are developing electric pickups, but a big question is if they will be ready to meet the demand the blue states are trying to juice.  

Ford is working on an electric version of its F-series pickup, consistently the nation's best-selling line of vehicles. And Tesla, the electric-car pioneer, last year unveiled its first electric pickup — cheekily named the Cybertruck.

But the market for electric medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, especially long-haul trucks, is not as developed as the one for passenger cars, although several major companies — including Amazon, Ikea and PepsiCo — have publicly promised to electrify parts of their shipping fleets. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

“That’s, frankly, the point of doing something like this: to give some kind of market signal and market certainty to those developers because they are investing significant amounts of money,” said Paul Miller, head of the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, a Boston-based consortium of air-quality agencies that helped organized the agreement.

Most of the states have the option of imposing California’s new requirement that manufacturers sell electric trucks. But it remains to be seen whether they will do so in the face of both legal uncertainty opposition from the oil and auto industry.

California and a coalition of other states are locked in a lawsuit against the Trump administration after the Environmental Protection Agency revoked the state's ability to set auto emissions standards tougher than the federal government's.

One state considering adopting the California electric truck rule is Colorado. Shoshana Lew, executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation, said the state is evaluating whether enough cars will be available if more than one state has a mandate in place.

"It is still a more nascent market than the light-duty vehicles," she said.

Kelly Crawford, associate director of air quality at the Department of Energy and Environment in the District of Columbia, said Washington will also consider adopting California's mandate. 

“At a time when the federal government is moving to dismantle clean transportation programs,” she wrote by email, the multi-state agreement "presents an important opportunity for states to lead on climate action and to improve air quality and public health in our most vulnerable communities.”

Other states in the non-binding pact are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington and Vermont.

Environmentalists cheered the agreement, while industry is skeptical of other states adopting California's stance. 

“It's a step in the right direction,” said Paul Cort, a staff attorney for the environmental litigation group Earthjustice. 

"It's not as aggressive as the California standard," he said, adding: “The California standard is fresh. People are still digesting it.”

The air pollution from large vehicles often weighs on black and brown communities the most. All but one of Manhattan's bus depots, for example, is above 96th Street — in Harlem and other historically black neighborhoods.

“The cleanest fuel we can get will make a big difference in air quality” in those places, said Peggy Shepard, executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, a local green group that has sued New York over its placement of the bus depots.

But the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association, which represents Daimler, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, General Motors and other truck makers, said that while its members are developing electric trucks, California also need to require fleet owners to buy electric vehicles for its plan to work — something state regulators are working on but haven't yet finalized. 

The rule “is built on a flawed regulatory structure and thus it risks poisoning the market,” the trade group wrote in a comment to California in May. The association has also argued against imposing stricter regulations in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, which led to a collapse in auto sales.

But Lew in Colorado argued that the spread of the virus only highlights trucking as a pollution source as so many people stuck at home and ordering items online.

“Over the course of covid," she said, “we're only seeing how important and how pervasive trucking is in moving goods and services that we rely on for every aspect of our lives.”

Power plays

Joe Biden set to offer newly ambitious climate goals.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee plans to outline a proposal Tuesday pledging “to eliminate carbon pollution from power plants by 2035, according to a person briefed on his proposal,” my colleague Matt Viser report.

The new 15-year timeline is far more ambitious than anything Biden has previously proposed — and “the latest sign of Biden’s attempt to reflect the liberal energy in his party."

According to Bloomberg News, the plan also calls for some $2 trillion in spending over four years to boost the clean energy economy.

The EPA won’t tighten smog standards. 

“The Trump administration on Monday said it will maintain national air quality standards put in place in 2015, despite calls for more stringent regulations that advocates say are necessary to protect Americans in communities that are particularly vulnerable to a range of respiratory ailments,” my colleague Brady Dennis reports.

In a phone call with reporters, Administrator Andrew Wheeler said that the existing limits for ozone are good enough “based on a review of the scientific literature and recommendation from our independent science advisers." But the uneven burden of air pollution borne by such poor and minorities communities, activists say, meant the federal government should have tighten those standards.

Correction: The original version of this newsletter said the EPA's announcement Monday concerned soot pollution. It concerns ozone.

Fracking companies are going bankrupt, and they may not have enough money to plug gas wells. 

Oil and gas companies in the United States are increasingly moving toward bankruptcy, a shift that comes as oil prices crash and pandemic-driven slowdowns tank demand, the New York Times reports. But these cash-strapped companies have still managed to funnel millions for their executives, in numerous cases paying top officials before filing for bankruptcy. And there could be more to come — analytics company Rystad Energy predicts nearly 250 firms could file for bankruptcy by the end of next year. 

“Whiting Petroleum, a major shale driller in North Dakota that sought bankruptcy protection in April, approved almost $15 million in cash bonuses for its top executives six days before its bankruptcy filing,” per the report. “Chesapeake Energy, a shale pioneer, declared bankruptcy last month, just weeks after it paid $25 million in bonuses to a group of executives. And Diamond Offshore Drilling secured a $9.7 million tax refund under the Covid-19 stimulus bill Congress passed in March, before filing to reorganize in bankruptcy court the next month. Then it won approval from a bankruptcy judge to pay its executives the same amount, as cash incentives.” 

There are also potential environmental implications. As the firms move toward bankruptcy, they could abandon unprofitable wells that are leaking planet-warming pollutants into the air. 

The Times adds: “It is also likely that many companies haven’t set aside enough money, as required by law, to restore well sites to their original state. An analysis of recently bankrupt oil and gas companies’ financial statements, prepared for The New York Times, shows a funding shortfall.” 

Coronavirus fallout

The summer heat and humidity hasn’t curbed the coronavirus pandemic as some scientists had previously hoped. 

Public health experts point to three reasons cases didn’t wane, the Wall Street Journal reports.

“They have to do with the current levels of immunity in the population, how the virus is transmitted and how people behave,” the report states. “… Even though at least one study has suggested that sunlight can inactivate the virus on contaminated surfaces, scientists said it isn’t common to contract Covid-19 that way. Instead, health agencies have identified respiratory droplets as the major mode of transmission — when a sick person coughs, sneezes or speaks, they expel large fluid droplets that can transfer virus to someone else.” 

The Journal adds: “Many researchers have said the new coronavirus can also be transmitted through aerosols, or minuscule droplets that float in the air longer than large droplets and can be directly inhaled. While at least one study has found sunlight can inactivate the virus in the air, infection through virus-containing aerosols is most likely to happen in poorly ventilated, indoor spaces, and such places generally don’t get much sunlight.” 

There’s excessive heat baking areas where coronavirus cases are spiking. 

The South and Southwest are experiencing a heat wave, adding an additional public health hurdle amid the pandemic, Matthew Cappucci and Andrew Freedman report.

The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center said the excessive heat could continue for a couple weeks across the nation. 

“On Monday, heat warnings and advisories were in effect for at least 11 states from Southern California to the Florida Panhandle,” they add. “These include all of Louisiana, nearly the entire state of Texas and a portion of Arizona. Each of these states have seen dramatic surges in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, and the heat is complicating the effort to contain the illness by making drive-through testing centers less feasible and challenging cities’ heat wave response plans that rely in part on indoor cooling centers, where the virus could spread.” 

The above-average temperatures could also contribute to drying vegetation in fire-prone regions, including in California.

Oil check

Saudi Arabia is leading a group of crude-oil producers in urging OPEC and its allies to ease the curbs on oil production. 

The push to increase oil production comes amid signs that oil demand is returning, the Wall Street Journal reports.

“Key members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its Russia-led allies are set to meet via web conference Wednesday to debate the group’s current and future production,” the report states. “In April, Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, led a push that saw the 23-producer group cut its collective output by 9.7 million barrels a day, as the pandemic led to a collapse of oil demand. … Under a Saudi proposal, the so-called OPEC Plus coalition would relax its current curbs by 2 million barrels a day to 7.7 million barrels a day, the delegates said.” 

Meanwhile, U.S. shale output is expected to decline by about 56,000 barrels a day next month. 

That’s according to a monthly forecast by the U.S. Energy Information Administration that expects output from seven shale formations to drop to about 7.49 million barrels per day in August, the lowest in two years, Reuters reports.