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California Could Phase Out Diesel Trucks Within 20 Years

The Advanced Clean Fleets rule, which could get an air board public hearing in spring, seeks to phase out diesel trucks across the state by 2042 at the latest, including garbage trucks, delivery vans and more.

(TNS) — Twenty years from now, diesel-powered trucks in California might go the way of the pay phone and video rental stores.

That’s the goal of a sweeping new rule before the California Air Resources Board.

The Advanced Clean Fleets rule, which could get an air board public hearing in spring, seeks to phase out diesel trucks across the state by 2042 at the latest.

If it’s approved, everything from garbage trucks, delivery vans and buses to long-haul tractor trailers would eventually have to run on zero-emission power in an effort to retire diesel engines blamed for spewing airborne toxins and aiding climate change.

Curbing air pollution and global warming is the mission of the 16-member air board. In August, the board banned the sale of all new gas-powered cars and light trucks in California by 2035.

California’s climate goals include cutting greenhouse gasses 80% below 1990s levels by 2050. The proposed rule excites environmentalists, even if they think it doesn’t go far enough.

“I don’t believe there’s another regulation out there that can target these trucks that exists right now,” said Andrea Vidaurre, senior policy analyst for the San Bernardino County-based People’s Collective for Environmental Justice.

But a spokesperson for the state’s trucking industry warned that the rule would be difficult — if not impossible — to follow.

“The main issue is that, with the technology that we have today and the variety of applications, the regulation just simply is not feasible to implement for the vast majority of trucking operations,” said Chris Shimoda, senior vice president, government affairs, for the California Trucking Association.

For many Californians, especially those in the Inland Empire and near the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, diesel exhaust is as constant as palm trees and sunshine. Diesel-powered big rigs fill freeways as they shuttle goods from bustling global ports to a mushrooming number of Inland warehouses feeding a voracious national appetite for e-commerce.

Logistics is an economic backbone employing thousands in Southern California. But critics say those living near warehouses — disproportionately people of color — pay the price through earlier deaths and higher rates of asthma and other air pollution-linked ailments.

Diesel emissions contain more than 40 toxic air contaminants, including cancer-causing substances such as arsenic and benzine, according to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

They also can contain carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that warms the planet and leads to more severe weather, droughts and other threats.

The proposed rule would require truck manufacturers to only sell zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty trucks by 2040. Beginning in 2024, half the vehicles bought by state and local government agencies would have to be zero emission — a benchmark that would rise to 100% by 2027.

Drayage fleets, which ferry goods from ports to warehouses, would only be able to add zero-emission trucks starting in 2024, with diesel trucks removed from service at the end of their useful lives. All drayage trucks would have to be zero emission by 2035.

“High-priority” fleets — companies with at least $50 million in gross annual revenue and at least one vehicle with a gross weight of more than 8,500 pounds or those with at least 50 vehicles with a gross weight of more than 8,500 pounds — have two options.

They could buy only zero-emission trucks starting in 2024 and gradually retire their diesel trucks. Or they could commit to meeting benchmarks over time for zero-emission trucks as a percentage of their total fleet, eventually reaching an all zero-emission fleet between 2035 and 2042, depending on the type of truck.

Companies could get an exemption from the rule if there are no zero-emission trucks on the market that meet their needs. Specialty trucks and tractor trailers with sleeper cabs wouldn’t have to start complying until 2030.

The rule would apply to about 532,000 — 29.5% — of California’s roughly 1.8 million medium- and heavy-duty trucks and lead to 1.59 million zero-emission vehicles in the state by 2050, according to the air board’s staff.

Those staffers expect the rule would cause almost half of semi-trucks on California highways to run on zero-emission engines by 2035, with 70% being zero emission by 2042. The rule would save $57.8 billion in health-related costs, according to air board estimates.

With California lacking truck drivers and able-bodied workers, the rule “is the last thing we need to push for the self-serving (Gov. Gavin Newsom) and his run for the 2024 presidential race,” said Ali Mazarei, who owns a gas station serving cars and trucks in Perris that offers diesel along with compressed and liquified natural gas.

Unless China, India and Russia take steps to curb air pollution, “all (of) this is just a drop in a bucket, or rather, the black hole of waste of time and money,” Mazarei, who is active in local Republican circles, said via email.

“This latest effort will only increase inflation and hurt small business owners,” he added.

Shimoda, of the trucking association, said current state regulations require diesel particulate filters and other technology that make California diesel trucks “the cleanest in the country.”

“Even in the absence of a fast transition to zero emissions … the emission reductions have been pretty staggering,” he said.

While air board staff see a robust and growing market for zero-emission trucks, Shimoda disagrees.

“We’re not opposed to zero-emission technology at all,” he said. “That technology is emerging and improving every year. But … the zero-emission vehicles that we have today in the commercial space (have) been lagging behind the passenger car market development by … several decades.”

California’s electric grid isn’t ready to handle a spike in demand from a growing electric-powered truck fleet, Shimoda said.

“The buildout at the scale that it needs to happen, it’s just not going to be there for the vast majority of truckers. Your typical trucking operation is not going to be building their own charging (station) at their facility.”

Paul Griffo, a Southern California Edison spokesperson, said the utility, which offered written comments on the rule, supports the rule “because we believe it’s necessary to meet the state’s ambitious air and climate goals.”

“We’re confident the grid can handle the increase in (electric vehicle) adoption,” he said. “We’ve been planning for it. We have long-term planning processes that make sure we’re making smart investments in the grid today so that we have the energy we need five to 10 years down the road.”

Those steps include spending $5 billion “to make the grid smarter and more resilient,” plans to install charging stations near ports, freight corridors and warehouses and working with utility companies in California, Washington and Oregon to provide truck recharging along the 5 Freeway and adjoining highways, Griffo said.

But Shimoda said that, right now, “there is a single big rig electric (model) which is actually registered to operate on the roads today” that weighs more and carries less cargo than a diesel big rig. And it can only go 125 miles before needing four hours to recharge.

“You just simply cannot do the vast majority of trucking the way that it needs to be done with those sorts of issues,” he said.

While zero-emission trucks cost more up front, air board officials maintain that existing state programs can help companies offset those expenses and more zero-emission truck models will hit the market in the years ahead. Under the proposed rule, fleets could expect to save a total of $22.2 billion through lower fuel costs and maintenance expenses, according to an air board fact sheet.

The LA and Long Beach ports are working to have an all zero-emission truck fleet by 2035. In April, an agreement was announced to bring 100 battery-electric trucks to the ports. And this month, the Long Beach port opened the first of two public charging stations for electric trucks.

That said, the ports have concerns about the proposed rule. In an October letter to an air board official, port officials warned the rule’s recordkeeping requirement for ports could be burdensome.

“ … Terminal operators without electronic gate systems would need to manually check each truck to determine compliance, which is a change in their operation and would delay entry into the terminal, causing unnecessary terminal gate congestion,” read the letter, which was signed by environmental planning directors for both ports.

While she supports the rule, Vidaurre, of the environmental justice collective, said 2036, not 2040, should be the deadline for truck manufacturers to stop selling diesel models.

The definition of high-priority fleets that would be covered by the rule should be expanded from companies with at least 50 vehicles weighing more than 8,500 pounds to those with at least 10 such vehicles, she added.

Before an October air board hearing on the proposed rule, supporters formed a caravan from the Inland Empire to Sacramento that stopped in Oxnard, Fresno and Oakland to show “this is not just an issue of the Inland Empire, but there are millions of Californians that are living at the front line of diesel pollution,” Vidaurre said.

In communities beset by diesel exhaust, “people have shortened lives because of the environment that they live in,” she said. “Kids’ lungs aren’t growing at the same speed because of where they live.”

“If the technology exists, there’s no reason why we should still be suffering (and) breathing in that air pollution.”

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