Opponents clash as California tries to get diesel trucks off the road

Environmentalists and trucking industry groups clashed with clean air regulators this week over a controversial proposal to phase out California’s big rigs and other trucks with internal combustion engines and force manufacturers to accelerate mass production of electric trucks.

The California Air Resources Board held its first public hearing on rules that would ban manufacturers from selling any new fossil-fueled medium- and heavy-duty trucks until 2040. The new rules would also require major trucking companies to convert their fleets to electric models. , buying more over time until all emissions are zero by 2042. The move is part of the state’s broader strategy to end dependence on fossil fuels and reduce planet-warming emissions.

“California is leading the transition to large-scale truck and bus electrification,” said Board Chair Liane Randolph. “These actions can show the world how to simultaneously address the climate crisis, improve air quality and mitigate key concerns identified by communities.”

The proposed ordinance drew fire from both sides of the aisle as 167 members of the public lined up for Thursday’s hearing.

Environmentalists and public health groups called for a tougher rule that would accelerate the requirement to sell 100 percent electric trucks to 2036 instead of 2040, while trucking companies said the proposal ignored concerns about electric vehicle costs and technology, lack of infrastructure and waste goods. – paid work.

The Air Resources Board is expected to hold a second hearing on the proposal and vote in the spring.

Jeff Cox, a 24-year-old truck driver and owner of Best Drayage, a Madeira-based trucking company, worries that the rule could put many family fleet operators out of business — especially those with certain types of trucks that would be the first to be affected by the regulation.

“Obviously we all want cleaner air, but that would be disastrous for the industry,” he said. “We work in an already challenging environment. To add anything else that drastic would be very damaging.”

California often leads the nation in adopting strict emission reduction standards. The new rule would transform the trucking industry and affect about 1.8 million trucks on the state’s roads. It builds on other mandates to cut emissions in the transportation sector, including a ban on gas-powered cars passed earlier this year and a clean truck regulation passed in 2020.

But environmental groups often say that while the aviation board’s regulations on the transportation industry are well-intentioned, they don’t go far enough to reduce the production or use of fossil fuels.

Andrea Vidaurre, a policy analyst at the People’s Collective for Environmental Justice, said the effects of toxic diesel emissions from big rigs and other heavy trucks in heavily polluted communities underscore California’s need to accelerate the transition. Diesel exhaust can lead to several health problems, including asthma and other respiratory ailments, and increase the risk of hospitalization and premature death, airline officials say.

The phase-in of existing fleets would only apply to federal agencies and “high priority fleets” owned or operated by companies with 50 or more trucks or with annual revenue of $50 million or more. Also applies to: trucks weighing 10,001 pounds or more and package delivery vehicles weighing 8,500 pounds or more, including US Postal Service, FedEx, UPS and Amazon fleets.

These companies and federal agencies could comply in one of two ways. They could choose to purchase only zero-emission trucks from 2024 while phasing out diesel trucks at the end of their life, or they could choose to phase in zero-emission trucks as an increasing percentage of their total fleet park. The second option would call for starting with 10% of vans and other types most likely to be electrified in 2025, then ramping up to 100% between 2035 and 2042.

The transition to electric trucks would start as early as 2024 for many fleet operators. These trucks have the tightest timeline because they are among the easiest to electrify, including vans and trucks that carry freight on the railroads and ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach . . New models would have to be zero-emission by 2024, while diesel and gas-powered trucks must phase out after 18 years.

Chris Shimoda, senior vice president of the California Trucking Association, which represents truck drivers, said the heavy weight of electric truck batteries could force trucks to shed about 8,000 pounds of their payload, increasing the need for more trucks and drivers to transport cargo. at a time when the industry is already facing a shortage of workers.

Enough chargers and network capacity?

There are only 1,943 zero-emission medium and heavy vehicles on state roads, and almost all of them are buses. About 300 are zero-emission commercial trucks and less than 90 are electric semi-trailers. The rule would add about 510,000 carbon-free medium- and heavy-duty trucks to roads and highways in 2035, rising to 1.2 million in 2045 and nearly 1.6 million in 2050.

To meet this demand, the state would need to install up to 800 chargers per week to power truck fleets, representing 64 to 158 megawatts of new charging capacity, or enough to power 118,000 homes.

“We don’t even know that there will be chargers available in the next two years to have somewhere to plug in the trucks,” he added.

Some board members questioned whether the California Public Utilities Commission was ready to build the necessary infrastructure and power grid improvements within the proposed timeline.

“It’s really a very big undertaking,” said board vice president Sandra Berg. “I try to understand where the network problems will be and how they can be solved. How much time do we really need here?”

Air board member Daniel Sperling, who is also the director of the Transportation Studies Institute at UC Davis, echoed many of the concerns raised by the trucking industry about installing charging stations and rapidly improving the network.

Yulia Shmidt, an analyst with the California Public Utilities Commission’s Office of Ratepayer Advocates, assured the board that the agency is making a significant investment in upgrading the network.

“That’s certainly a concern that we’re thinking deeply about, and that’s why we’re looking at the forecast to see where the new load might come from so that we can trigger upgrades in those areas if they’re needed,” she said. .

Many truck drivers at the hearing called the proposal unfair because of the high cost of purchasing an electric truck compared to a traditional diesel truck.

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