By Nadia Lopez, CalMatters
New big rigs and other trucks will have to be zero-emissions in 2040 — ending their decades-long reliance on high-polluting diesel — under a proposed regulation unveiled by the California Air Resources Board.
Under the proposal, manufacturers couldn’t sell new medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks fueled by diesel or gasoline that operate in California, instead turning to electric models. In addition, large trucking companies would have to gradually convert their existing fleets to zero-emission vehicles, buying more over time until all are zero emissions by 2042.
In another worldwide first, California aims to amp up its efforts to end the use of fossil fuels by setting requirements for clean-burning big rigs, garbage trucks, delivery trucks and other large trucks. Transportation is California’s largest contributor to climate-warming greenhouse gases as well as smog and other air pollutants.
Chris Shimoda, a senior vice president at the California Trucking Association, which represents truck drivers, said zero-emission truck technology has great possibilities, but truckers worry about “the practical unknowns,” such as the high cost of the trucks, a lack of charging stations and the limited range of the vehicles.
“We’re flying blind into some pretty major questions about the practicality of actually implementing this rule,” Shimoda said.
The air board did not include cost estimates for trucking companies and truck drivers in its proposal, only saying that their upfront costs would be high but they’d save money over time.
About 1.8 million heavy-duty trucks on California’s roads would be affected by the regulation, according to the report.
The proposed rule could put about 510,000 carbon- free medium and heavy-duty vehicles on California’s roads in 2035, increasing to 1.2 million in 2045 and nearly 1.6 million in 2050, according to the air board. Currently there are only 1,943 zero emission medium and heavy duty vehicles on the state’s roads, and nearly all of them are buses.
The new truck mandate is “really a critical piece of the state’s climate and clean air objectives,” said Patricio Portillo, a clean transportation advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “A common sight on California’s highways are trucks clogging lanes, blowing thick smoke into the sky while overheated trucks rest at the side. It’s so normal that we stop thinking about it, but that exhaust permeating the air harms our lungs and bodies.”
The air board will hold a public hearing on the proposal on Oct. 27, after a 45-day public comment period. It comes just a few weeks after the air board passed another far-reaching mandate that bans sales of gas-powered cars by 2035.
California has been ratcheting down emissions from diesel-powered trucks and buses for decades in an effort to combat the state’s severe air pollution. The new proposal builds on a clean trucks regulation passed in 2020, which gradually increases the number of zero-emission trucks that manufacturers must sell, starting in 2024.
The provisions requiring turnover of existing fleets would apply only to federal agencies and so-called “high-priority fleets,” which are owned or operated by companies with 50 or more trucks or $50 million or more in annual revenue. Included are trucks weighing 10,001 pounds or more and package delivery vehicles of 8,500 lbs or more, including U.S. Postal Service, FedEx, UPS and Amazon fleets.
These large companies and federal agencies would have a choice on how to comply: They could purchase only zero-emission vehicles beginning in 2024 while retiring diesel trucks at the end of their useful life. Or they could phase-in zero-emission trucks as a percentage of their total fleet, starting with 10% of delivery trucks and other types that are the easiest to electrify in 2025, then ramping up to 100% between 2035 and 2042.
The requirements for converting fleets would not apply to smaller companies, unless they were using a larger company’s trucks. They could keep their trucks as long as they want under the proposal, although their new purchases would have to be zero-emission by 2040, according to Tony Brasil, chief of the air board’s transportation and technology branch.
“We also believe that some of the market dynamics will probably encourage fleets to replace their trucks earlier,” Brasil said. “As new zero emission trucks become available, the cost of operation is considerably lower.”
Working toward the 2040 ban on new diesel and gas trucks, the proposal has other deadlines for phasing in new sales, varying based on the type of truck.
Drayage trucks — used largely to transport cargo from ports and railways — would have the strictest timeline. New models would be zero-emission in 2024, while diesel and gas drayage trucks must retire after 18 years to guarantee that they meet a zero-emission requirement by 2035.
In addition, half of all new trucks purchased by state and local governments would be zero-emission in 2024, increasing to 100% by 2027. Some exemptions are allowed, if there is a lack of available models. Counties with small populations, including Inyo, Butte, Mendocino and Tuolumne, would be exempt until 2027.
The new rule banning sale of diesel vehicles would not apply to emergency vehicles, such as ambulances.
Some manufacturers have already announced plans to ramp up sales of electric truck fleets. Tesla plans to roll out electric semi trucks with 500 miles of range later this year, while Volvo Trucks and Nikola Inc. have launched electric big-rigs and other models with ranges of up to 350 miles. Volvo Trucks this year set a global goal that half of its truck sales would be electric by 2030.
“We are determined to lead the transformation of the transport industry,” Roger Alm, president of Volvo Trucks, said in a statement. “The interest among customers is high and it’s quickly becoming a competitive advantage for transporters to be able to offer electric, sustainable transports.”
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