10 Clean Transportation Wins in 2023

As the year wraps, it’s a time of reflection, rest, and hope. In 2023, Sierra Club advocated for cleaner cars and trucks, public transit and rail, and zero-emission mobility like walking and cycling to reduce driving overall! Going into the new year, we’re celebrating Sierra Club’s many achievements to advance clean transportation.

Here are 10 highlights from 2023: 

1. States are Leading the Way to 100% Zero-Emission Vehicles

As the largest source of climate pollution, cleaning up our cars, trucks, and buses is critical to our future. And states are moving forward with programs to get cleaner vehicles on roads. This year, Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, New Mexico, and New Jersey became the latest states to adopt Advanced Clean Cars II Standards. This means that, in total, states that have adopted this clean car program represent one third of the country’s new passenger vehicle sales, with more in the works.

States are also accelerating the adoption of electric trucks and buses through the Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) Rule. In 2023, Colorado, Maryland, and New Mexico adopted the ACT rule, and other states are considering the rule too. All together, the ACT states capture 22% percent of the truck and bus market.     

Our campaign put together a handy interactive tracker to keep tabs on the progress!

2. The Environmental Protection Agency Proposed Essential Long-Term Vehicle Standards 

This spring, the EPA proposed essential long-term standards (through two different rules) to clean up pollution from cars, trucks, and buses. 

The strongest versions of these rules can help the U.S. avoid 9.9 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2055. For comparison, that’s equivalent to emissions from 88 coal plants operating over 30 years! The rules will also help clean up our air, resulting in reductions of 16,650 tons of PM2.5 and 143,000 tons of NOx emissions in 2055, compared to if the rules weren't in place. Overall, the EPA estimates that the strongest versions of these rules could result in $1.25 to $2.12 trillion in economic benefits.

Advocates showed up to public hearings – interest even expanded the number of dedicated days from two to three – and submitted hundreds of thousands of comments to tell the EPA to go with the strongest possible standards. We expect these rules to be finalized in the spring of 2024; industry – both Big Oil and vehicle manufacturers – has been out in full force lobbying to convince the EPA to go soft on these rules. 

Going into 2024, we’re continuing our advocacy to tell the EPA to listen to communities and adopt strong standards. 

3. Hundreds of Millions Dedicated to EV Charging Across the Country 

The transition to zero-emitting electric cars, trucks, and buses requires a robust, reliable, and affordable charging network. Since 2015, Sierra Club advocates and attorneys have fought to secure billions in charging infrastructure funding and develop EV-friendly grid policies, including by ensuring electric utilities’ EV programs connect EV charging with clean power and promote equity by improving access to clean transportation options for all customers. 

In 2023, Sierra Club helped to secure $851 million in utility EV investments and programs through advocacy before state utility commissions, with one-third of that funding prioritized for disadvantaged communities.

4. Two Major Reports to Ditch Driving

While we work to transition away from new polluting vehicles with EVs, a necessary shift for climate and public health, Sierra Club is also working to reduce the car dependency so prevalent in the U.S. Key solutions that make it easier for people to drive less include better land use (that is, development that allows people to live close to where they work) and convenient and reliable alternatives to driving, like public transit and rail, and making the roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists. 

This year, Sierra Club volunteers worked on two major advocacy tools to help the U.S. move away from driving, including a Land Use Survey that shows examples of good neighborhood projects across the country that encourage walking/biking and affordable housing, and a rail statement that shows the many opportunities the U.S. can leverage to improve both passenger and freight rail, including electrification. 

5. The Federal Government Poured Billions into Public Transportation, including Ports and Passenger Rail

Our movement helped pass monumental climate legislation in the last couple of years, and now Sierra Club’s focus is implementing the wins in the bills and making sure communities benefit from the major investments going out the door. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, passed in 2021, and the Inflation Reduction Act, passed in 2022, included billions of dollars for clean transportation. While the EV incentives get a lot of attention, there’s a lot to be excited about, including billions to clean up pollution from ports; improve and increase passenger rail; and invest in electric school buses so kids don’t have to ride a dirty diesel-mobile to school. 

6. New York Passed A Zero Emissions Vehicles Bill to Rule Them All 

Lord of the Rings reference aside, this was an epic win! The legislation requires NYC to shift its entire fleet – the biggest in the nation at 30,000+ cars, trucks, and buses – to zero emission. Instead of “ruling them all,” we’re excited to see this victory inspire other cities to do the same. 

7. The Goods Movement is Getting Cleaner 

The convenience of online retailing and the increase in the shipping of goods comes with major costs: Sprawling warehouse distribution centers, increased truck traffic, and more movement around rail yards. Communities living near warehouses and rail yards suffer from a host of health issues from the daily pollution they are exposed to. Advocates put out reports detailing the grim reality and uplifting the stories of impacted residents. 

Southern California is at the forefront of advocacy: This spring, CA advocates won two first-of-their-kind regulations for locomotives and trucks, a blueprint for other states and nationally. After years of advocacy, they also successfully won an Indirect Source Rule, a huge step towards holding major rail companies accountable. 

At the same time, the EPA passed new standards for rail locomotives to reduce their emissions, a move that hasn’t happened in over 30 years. The momentum to hold corporate polluters in the heavy duty goods movement industry across warehouses, ports, and rail yards is growing across the country. Indirect source rules and reviews are a key tool to help us fight climate change and stand up against environmental injustices. There remains more work to be done, but there is a lot to celebrate this year! 

8. Autoworkers Won Historic Contracts with the “Big 3” 

As UAW President Shawn Fain reiterated throughout the UAW strike this year, ‘Record profits mean record contracts.’ The contracts with GM, Ford, and Stellantis included the most increases in wages seen in decades, wins for battery production workers, and the reopening of idled auto plants and expansion of new battery plants. The UAW has also announced expansion of its organizing efforts to unionize Tesla, Toyota, and Volkswagen. The Sierra Club joined many in the environment movement to echo the demands of auto workers to ensure that the clean energy transition is a just transition as the auto industry moves to EVs.

9. EV Sales Reached 1 Million in a Single Year 

Despite what you may have read in the media about EV demand slowing, the data isn’t there to support it. Electric car sales are soaring – and so are electric bikes! The National Automobile Dealer Association (NADA) reported in November that battery electric vehicle sales totaled 1,007,984 – an increase of 50.7% year-over-year. Demand is at a record high: in the third quarter of 2023, EVs made up 10.4% of new US car sales – meaning 1 in every 10 cars purchased was electric.

Electric bike sales also continue to grow, and the Sierra Club is proud to support federal legislation to expand e-bike access. 

10. Volunteers Put in Nearly 20,000 Hours for 200+ EV Community Events 

This year marks the 13th National Drive Electric Week, where communities get together to check out electric cars, bikes, buses and even motorcycles. It’s a massive effort with major benefits; we’ve seen firsthand the importance of these community events. Sometimes the best messenger is your neighbor, or at least someone who has personally gone electric and absolutely loved it! As is often the case, they never look back to the gas station. 

We were proud to once again partner with Plug-In America, EVHybridNoire, Drive Electric USA, and the Electric Vehicle Association on these exciting local events.