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California Poised to Ban Diesel Trucking by 2036

California’s air quality regulator will vote on whether to ban the sale of diesel big rigs by 2036 and switch all trucks in the state to zero-emission by 2042, which would transform California’s trucking industry.

Diesel car
(TNS) — California’s leading air quality regulator will soon vote on whether to ban the sale of new diesel big rigs by 2036 and switch all trucks in the state to zero-emission by 2042, unprecedented rules that would transform California’s trucking industry.

Trucking companies and local governments warn the California Air Resources Board that the mandates would be unachievable as environmental justice advocates laud the ambitious regulation they helped shape. After a final public hearing on Thursday, a vote is expected Friday.

“This is a first-of-its-kind requirement that will ensure industry has the certainty as to where California is going, which is zero,” said Sydney Vergis, CARB chief of transportation pollution. “It will help ensure that private infrastructure providers have certainty that should they decide to invest in California, there will be a market for them.”

By mandating the purchase of electric or hydrogen-powered trucks over time, the proposal aims to drastically reduce greenhouse gas pollution and harmful diesel exhaust generated by the 1.8 million medium- and heavy-duty trucks on California roadways.

The Advanced Clean Fleets rule builds on a 2020 rule to mandate electric truck production, and is considered a linchpin in California’s efforts to combat climate change by improving air quality and transitioning to a carbon neutral economy powered with clean energy by 2045.

Adding millions of pollution-free trucks to the road over the next decades would also improve public health, proponents argue. But industry critics say many zero-emission trucks rely on new and expensive technology, not to mention a high-capacity charging network that doesn’t yet exist.

Shifting gears to zero

Despite making up just 7% of the vehicles on California roads, big rigs are the single largest source of vehicle air pollution. Freight trucks moved 8.3 million tons of goods in 2022 worth $1.2 billion, Department of Transportation data show, in an industry that could reach $7 billion in revenue by 2025.

The engines of those trucks emit about 70% of smog-forming nitrogen oxides and 80% of carcinogenic diesel soot, according to the air board. Much of that industrial pollution is felt most acutely in communities that live closest to ports and warehouses, including the southern Central Valley, Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire.

In a bold move that leaves no room for combustion engine truck sales just over a decade from now, CARB’s new rule would forbid truck manufacturers from selling any non-zero emission vehicle starting in 2036.

The rule would first kick in for drayage trucks, which move cargo between ports and warehouses up and down the state. Existing diesel vehicles can operate for several more years, but any new vehicles must be zero emission beginning 2024 and all must be converted to electric by 2035.

A requirement to switch existing trucks to zero emissions by 2042 would also apply to groups of 50 or more owned and operated by companies with more than $50 million in annual revenue, called “high-priority fleets,” as well as federally owned trucks.

That includes both heavy duty big rigs weighing 8,500 pounds or more as well as lighter vehicles that include package delivery vans operated by the U.S. Postal Service, UPS and Amazon.

Requirements for public agencies such as fire departments and water agencies would also approach rapidly. Truck-owning agencies must make half of their truck purchases zero emission by 2024, ramping up to 100% by 2027, but emergency vehicles are exempt.

Air board officials expect the rule could put some 510,000 zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2035, reaching 1.7 million in 2050. CARB estimates the change would generate $26.5 billion in health benefits, from reduced rates of asthma attacks and emergency room visits for example, and $48 billion in savings for truck owners on lower operation and maintenance costs.

Some exemptions apply if entities can show a lack of available models. The agency will track implementation by requiring fleet owners to register trucks in an online system.

‘Impossible’ to comply?

Both trucking companies and local governments have emerged as key critics of the regulation.

They argue timelines are difficult to meet given a limited availability of zero-emission trucks and a dearth of adequate charging infrastructure. Air board leaders have said they expect private and public investment in charging infrastructure to grow over time.

Members of the trucking industry say the regulation could create serious problems in California’s already strained supply chain. Increased prices and less availability of certain commodities are likely ahead, said Chris Shimoda, senior vice president of the California Trucking Association.

© 2023 The Sacramento Bee. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.