The proposed bill by state Sen. Nancy Skinner requires significant diesel emission reductions: 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. Neither are possible without huge changes in the trucking industry.
(TNS) — A proposed law that would phase out diesel trucks in California was introduced Friday in an ongoing effort by state legislators to control pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, but it will likely face major opposition from trucking companies and other businesses that transport products in big rigs.
The bill, by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, would direct the California Air Resources Board to require a 40 percent reduction in diesel emissions by 2030 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050, cuts that experts say would not be possible without a major overhaul of the trucking industry.
Heavy- and medium-duty buses and trucks make up 7 percent of the vehicles on California’s roads but contribute 20 percent of the heat-trapping carbon emissions spewed into the atmosphere, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit science advocacy organization. They also produce 33 percent of the state’s nitrogen oxides, a major ingredient in particulate matter, or smog, Skinner said.
“While California is a leader in climate protection, we still have very dirty air,” said Skinner, pointing out high rates of asthma, lung and heart disease and other respiratory problems in low-income communities like Oakland and Richmond, which are near freeways and the Port of Oakland. “We’ve got rising rates of asthma, which is caused by smog and particulate matter, which primarily comes from diesel.”
SB44 would also designate an unspecified amount of money from the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund for the development of alternate fuels and technology.
It is the latest move by California to seize control of its own greenhouse gas emissions as the Trump administration pushes for lower fuel efficiency standards and promotes the oil and gas industries.
But those who make their living working on or driving trucks were not thrilled by the idea.
“Trucks move this world. That’s nonsense to me,” said Earl, a heavy equipment hauler who declined to give his last name Friday as he stood next to his idling rig at the North Bay Truck Center in Fairfield. “What are they going to use? Electric? That’s not going to work.”
Jim Buell, general manager of the North Bay Truck Center, said that compared with gas engines, diesel engines are much more powerful, last longer — they can last 800,000 miles, a gas engine about 200,000 — and generally get 30 percent better fuel economy.
“I don’t think the technology has come far enough to phase out diesel, so I don’t see how it’s possible,” said Buell, whose company maintains and repairs trucks. “It would be a big strain on the industry and it would absolutely affect our business. Every truck I’m looking at in my yard now is diesel.”
The proposed law would join other recent moves designed to help the state meet its goal to cut carbon emissions to 1990 levels. Former Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation last year requiring all of California’s electricity to be from clean sources, such as solar, wind and hydropower, by 2045. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency recently committed to replacing its diesel- and gas-powered buses with an all-electric transit fleet by 2035.
Skinner’s bill follows a ruling in December by the California Air Resources Board requiring all transit agencies to make their fleets entirely emission-free within two decades. The rules prohibit the purchase of any new gas- or diesel-powered public transit buses by 2029 and require all buses to be emission-free by 2040. It means some 14,000 gas-guzzling public buses will be taken off the streets as they get old and replaced with battery and fuel-cell electric vehicles.
Environmental groups believe the gradual phasing out of diesel trucks and buses will give electric vehicle manufacturers time to design, build and purchase clean-fuel replacement rigs.
“The technology for zero-emission vehicles is accelerating at a rate that is pretty breathtaking,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California, who says at least six factory and assembly facilities are working on clean trucks and buses. “I believe the technology is such that, in a decade or two, there will be no more need for diesel trucks to be on the California market.”
Tom Howard, fleet director for Veritable Vegetables in San Francisco, which uses delivery trucks, said there have been significant improvements in electric, hydrogen fuel cell, compressed natural gas, propane, and plant- and food-based fuels.
Still, he said, it will be a tall task for manufacturers to fully replace diesel and for California to build enough infrastructure so that truckers can keep their big rigs going. The move to all but eliminate diesel trucks in California would prevent truckers from elsewhere from entering the state.
“Business would essentially stop without some type of a diesel engine fuel that can be burned,” Howard said. “You’re talking tractors, forklifts, cranes. I just don’t see diesel going away. That fuel is 200 years old and it’s not going to be replaced in 30 years.”
Skinner’s proposal falls in line with the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which designated the state Air Resources Board as the agency that would monitor and regulate emissions of greenhouse gases. The Air Resources Board already requires truck owners to install diesel exhaust retrofits that capture pollutants and replace engines older than the 2010 model year by 2022.
Skinner’s bill would require the board to develop a market-based strategy by Jan. 1, 2021, to bring the trucking industry into compliance with federal ambient air quality standards.
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