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Energy / Transportation

Could electric vehicle tech improve Pittsburgh’s air quality?

As elected officials call for investment in EVs, companies such as CorePower Magnetics are on board.

Electric vehicle charger. (Photo by Pexels user Mike B, used via a Creative Commons license)
A long-forgotten nickname for Pittsburgh is the Smoky City.

Even looking beyond the region’s steel factory history and the smog that was a staple of the 20th century, in the modern day, Pittsburgh ranks among the worst regions for air quality. Air pollution can have an especially detrimental effect on the region’s poorest residents, and particularly young children.

As other cities around the country grapple with their pasts and a present where bad quality alerts are still abundant (case in point, June’s Canadian wildfires), companies and elected officials alike are asking themselves what they can do to make cities like Pittsburgh easier places to breathe — and where technology could fit in.

With that in mind, the Route Zero Relay is currently traveling to communities across the country to gather perspectives about how cleaner air would make their lives better. A key component of this campaign is pushing for the Biden administration to enforce the federal clean air standards recently proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency. During its travels, the campaign also inquires about how residents view zero-emissions vehicles.

Pennsylvania Sen. Lindsey Williams and Mayor Ed Gainey joined forces to greet the campaign this week to call for investment in electric vehicles and clean energy to improve residents’ quality of life, and to address the climate crisis. By combining federal and local efforts, Gainey said during a Monday event, American transportation as a whole could be transformed into something that benefitted the public while adhering to Route Zero’s goals of reaching a zero-emissions future.

“A strong federal partnership is essential for our progress towards a zero-emission future in our city and on a state level,” Gainey said. “By working together, local, state, and federal governments can accelerate our transition to electric and hybrid vehicles, improving public health and fostering a sustainable future for generations to come.”

“We’re all on the journey to zero emissions. We need to make sure that road is accessible and open for everyone.”Sen. Lindsey Williams

Existing local efforts include Pittsburgh Regional Transit transitioning its bus fleet to zero-emission vehicles by 2045, and new state funding dedicated to replacing diesel trucks with electric vehicles.

From Williams’ perspective, electric vehicles are a mechanism that must be enacted in a way that benefits both drivers and the business market: They can’t be so expensive that no one can afford them.

“Pennsylvania needs to adopt policies around electric vehicle ownership that balance our environmental and economic needs while ensuring that working families aren’t priced out of the EV market,” Williams said. “We’re all on the journey to zero emissions. We need to make sure that road is accessible and open for everyone.”

She suggested a strategic use of the federal infrastructure funding to help school districts electrify school bus flees and setting fees as some of the ways that would allow the road to zero emissions to remain cost-effective.

As noted in 2021, one of Pittsburgh’s leading tech sectors could also be a key player in making transportation more sustainable than ever before: autonomous vehicles. Yet for all of the new convenience and efficiency these cars might offer, their environmental advantages are somewhat more nuanced than those of electric vehicles. AV company Aurora, for one, sees electrification as a goal for its technology, a spokesperson told at the time.

From the electric vehicle side of things, CorePower Magnetics Executive Administrator Meghan Laba told this week that its leaders applauded Gainey and Williams’ call to make EVs more accessible. Because of the company’s work in developing magnetic component solutions for EVs, EV chargers and the grid, they hope to help bring the movement closer to sustainable transportation.

“Our technology is designed to improve the efficiency and increase the speed of EV charging solutions, thereby playing a role in making electric vehicles a more attractive, viable option for consumers,” Laba wrote in an email.

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: CorePower Magnetics

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