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California Considers Sweeping Electric Truck Regulation

The California Air Resources Board heard hours of testimony Thursday related to its proposed Advanced Clean Trucks Regulation. If approved, the new rules could shift the industry in the state away from fossil fuels.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The most populous state in the country is poised to adopt a sweeping new set of regulations that would require medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses to transition to zero-emission vehicles.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) spent roughly four hours Thursday hearing testimony from more than 100 organizations, government officials and residents related to the proposed Advanced Clean Trucks Regulation that could require the gradual phasing of big-rig and other trucks over the next decade.

The proposal is billed as landmark in its ability to transform a major component of the transportation sector, and one that is credited with producing a disproportionate amount of air-pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is a very important, and as far as we know, groundbreaking piece,” said Mary Nichols, CARB chair, in her opening comments at the meeting. “because it focuses on the production of the vehicles, to make sure that they will be there.”

The new rule, expected to get final approval next year, would require manufacturers to sell zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicles as a percent of annual sales. Also, large entities — including major retailers, restaurants, government agencies — would have a one-time reporting requirement to inform CARB how they use these types of vehicles, as a way of informing the state how future phases of the regulation should be developed.

“This is a complex, and highly important industry that we’re talking about,” said Nichols.  

“This is only the beginning of our efforts here. It is part of a comprehensive strategy to address emissions from motor vehicles, and it’s focused on accelerating a market,” she added. 

One of the proposed sales requirements would have heavy-duty ZEV big-rigs reach 15 percent by 2030.

However, speaker after speaker Thursday, urged the board to reach further, saying the proposal was too weak, in light of the high levels of air pollution found in many parts of California and the urgency to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions climate change has called glaring attention to.

“We wouldn’t be here today if this wasn’t extremely important to us,” said Allen Hernandez, speaking on behalf of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ),based in Riverside, Calif. Hernandez is a resident of the Inland Empire, home to thousands of truck trips per day due to the heavy logistics and trucking industry in the region.

“It’s about real lives out there,” he told the board.

“I think 15 percent is a good starting point,” Hernandez added, calling attention to the 2030 goal, which CCAEJ would set as the starting point in 2024.

The proposed rule would also put in place reporting requirements for some 12,000 businesses and government agencies using medium- and heavy-duty trucks, which would provide the state with data to draft improved ZEV truck standards.

Business groups tended to push back on reporting and purchase requirements, citing privacy and cost concerns.

“Our members need to know they will be able to recoup their investments,” remarked Jed Mandel, president of the Trucks and Engine Manufacturers Association.

"We are just in the beginning stages to understand the challenges and opportunities this presents,” said Mike Tunnell with the American Trucking Associations, speaking of the many unknowns related to electric trucks.

Board members seemed to welcome the urge to go further, and take stronger steps to both remove pollution-spewing trucks from California highways, and serve as a catalyst to transform an industry.

“When we’re talking about a 2030 goal, we’re talking about something that is more than a decade away, in an industry that is vastly changing,” said Nathan Fletcher, a CARB member and a member of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. “And if we are not more aggressive in setting our targets and we’re not more aggressive in setting goals for things that area decade from now, then I think we’re missing out on the potential to create that market force.” 

“This is one of those votes, you just have to look people in the eye when you go home,” reflected CARB member Dean Florez, a former member of the California Assembly and Senate, representing the Central Valley. “This is one of those votes that has a true impact. I think this might be the most important thing we do in the next year."

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.