California poised to ban new diesel trucks
California’s trucking industry is bracing for state regulators this week to enact unprecedented rules that would ban sales of new diesel big rigs by 2036 and convert large companies’ existing trucks to zero emissions by 2042.
“The amount of chaos and dysfunction that is going to be created by this rule will be like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” said Chris Shimoda, senior vice president of the California Trucking Association, an industry trade group. “The likelihood that it is going to fail pretty spectacularly is very high. It’s very unfortunate.”
The state Air Resources Board will hold a public hearing on its proposed regulation on Thursday, then is expected to vote on Friday.
The proposal aims to clean up noxious diesel exhaust and greenhouse gases spewed by big rigs, garbage trucks, delivery trucks and other large vehicles by converting them to models powered by electricity or hydrogen.
Trucking companies and local government officials call the deadlines in the rule unachievable. They say the new technology still has major drawbacks, including the high cost of electric trucks and their low vehicle range. The state also has not yet developed a charging network to support electric trucks, and the existing chargers can take hours to recharge, industry officials say.
A worldwide first, California’s rules would transform how goods are transported throughout the state, adding millions of new, pollution-free trucks on the roads. The state currently has very few large, zero-emission vehicles: only 1,943 in California — and nearly all of them are buses.
Unveiled last September, the air board’s proposal would set aggressive timelines for the purchase and manufacture of zero-emission medium and heavy-duty trucks. The move is considered a critical part of California’s strategy to clean up its severe smog, switch to clean energy, end its reliance on fossil fuels and become carbon neutral by 2045.
Under the proposal, in 2036, 100% of new sales of medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks must be zero emissions in California, scaling up from phased-in timelines that vary by the type of truck. The rules also would force companies that operate 50 or more trucks to gradually convert their fleets into electric or hydrogen models, reaching 100% zero-emissions by 2042, with these timelines also based on the type of truck.
The earliest requirements would be for drayage trucks, which carry cargo to and from the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland and cause severe air pollution in nearby communities. All of them must be converted to electric models by 2035, and new sales beginning in 2024 must be zero emissions.
The state requirements to switch existing truck fleets to zero emissions by 2042 would apply to “high-priority fleets,” which are owned or operated by companies with 50 or more trucks or $50 million or more in annual revenue, and to federal trucks.
Included are all vehicles weighing 8,500 lbs or more, as well as package delivery vehicles, including U.S. Postal Service, FedEx, UPS and Amazon fleets.
The proposal builds on a previous state clean trucks regulation, enacted in 2020, that mandated the number of zero-emission trucks that manufacturers must sell from 2024 through 2035.
California’s truck rules are “going to have significantly positive implications for both air quality and for pushing the market forward,” said Sam Wilson, a senior vehicles analyst in the clean transportation program at the environmental group Union of Concerned Scientists.
Still, he said the air board “missed an opportunity” to strengthen the rule, by failing to set stricter requirements for fleets with fewer than 50 trucks.
Trucking companies and local governments say fundamental changes are needed in California to help them meet the proposed timelines to stop buying new diesel trucks and phase out their existing diesels.
Large trucks are more difficult and expensive to convert to electric models than cars because of their size, weight and long distances that they’re driven.
But air board officials said they are confident that the truck market can adjust in time to speed the transition to electric models.
“All of the provisions are intended to address those concerns that stakeholders brought forward, including needing to move more aggressively in some areas and needing to provide flexibility in others,” said Air Resources Board Executive Officer Steven Cliff.
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