Eliminating diesel trucks leads to concerns over ag supply chain

The California Air Resources Board considers new regulation, called Advanced Clean Fleets, that will transition medium-and heavy-duty vehicles with combustion engines to zero-emission vehicles by 2045

CALIFORNIA – California’s air board is taking the wheel and accelerating Gov. Gavin Newson’s plan to reach 100% zero greenhouse gas emitting vehicles in just over a decade. However, many agricultural stakeholders question what that will mean for agricultural transportation of product and equipment.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is now developing a new regulation called Advanced Clean Fleets (ACF), which will phase out all medium to heavy duty vehicles including the largest big rigs on the road, and replace them with zero emission trucks. This new regulation will affect trucking companies that transport agricultural commodities, according to a press release from the California Farm Bureau. 

On Oct. 27, CARB held a board meeting where ACF was at the top of their agenda, and they opened the floor to public comment, where over 150 people voiced concerns and questions over the new proposed regulation.

“Agricultural commodities are perishable in nature, which this regulation does not take into account. Livestock, fruits and vegetables need to be transported in a timely manner to ensure food and animal safety,” said California Farm Bureau’s representative Katie Little during the meeting.

The regulation will also eliminate drayage trucks, which are class 8 trucks that transport freight from ocean ports to their destination, by 2035. The new regulation is being pushed in order to help move along Newsom’s executive order that seeks to achieve 100% zero emission by 2035, according to the executive order document. ACF is still in its developmental stages, and is subject to change due to their board’s direction and public comment. 

Little stated that a majority of farmers and livestock workers live in rural areas where there is limited access to the electric infrastructure that ACF requires. The time needed to charge vehicles could “jeopardize food security and availability,” according to Little. This comes at a time when one of the fastest charging machines available in the state can only charge a car at 80% capacity after 30 minutes. 

Of the 1.8 million medium to heavy-duty vehicles in California that operate daily, 532,000 will have to be phased out due to ACF fleet requirements, according to the CARB ACF factsheet. One of the only exceptions to this regulation would be if there is not an available vehicle offered as zero emission that meets a fleet’s needs. The proposed fleets affected by this are drayage trucks, fleets with $50 million or more in gross annual revenue with at least one vehicle that weighs over 8,500 pounds, or companies that own 50 or more vehicles that weigh 8,500 pounds. The regulation would also affect “medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, off-road yard trucks, and light-duty mail and package delivery vehicles,” according to the CARB ACF fact sheet.

Mike Tunnel from the American Trucking Associations said that there was not enough time to build the needed charging infrastructure that zero emission trucks would require. Many who commented on ACF at the board voiced their concerns that though the regulation has good intentions, the time frame to phase out their heavy duty trucks is too short and would not be feasible for many companies. 

“Trucking fleets are unanimous in their belief that zero emission trucks are not capable of doing what the regulation requires, and the infrastructure cannot be established in the timeframe given,” Tunnel said. “The consequences of this is that fleets will have to deploy trucks that cannot do the same job as their current trucks, or they will have to take delivery of trucks before the charging infrastructure is ready.”

Dr. Pacheco Werner, co-director of the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at Fresno State, also questioned how infrastructure would look, as the energy grid through the San Joaquin Valley, which Werner noted had a large amount of trucking transportation due to the area’s agricultural nature, does not appear to have robust capacity to handle charging the fleets. 

Yulia Schmidt, who represented the California Public Utilities Commission, said that the new regulation is still developing a plan on how to account for the charging infrastructure. David Asti, with the Southern California Edison Company, said that he believes the power grid is capable of handling the transition to zero emission vehicles, and that Edison is committed to upgrading the grid in order to accommodate if needed, and has already accounted for the ACF proposed rule.

Jamie Angus with the Griffith Company, which is a construction business that is only based out of Southern California, said that the company has already spent $21 million to replace their fleet of trucks from tier three to tier four, per [the regulation]. Angus said that for a medium-sized construction business, this was extremely costly. 

“This [new regulation] will do the same type of damage to us as well and we don’t really even understand how to charge these vehicles,” Angus said. 

Additionally, Angus said that the fleet used by drivers deliver materials to construction sites daily, and that the trucks go home with workers everyday. Since they will need to be charged from home, Angus questioned how the company would even begin to compensate for that, as they would have to install charging stations of the workers’ residential properties.

Though the proposed regulation has yet to be mandated, the new emission standards that are a part of Newsom’s executive order have already made their way to Tulare County. In February, the Valley Air District accepted over $36.5 million in California Energy Commission (CEC) and CARB funding to deploy 100 zero emission trucks and build the technology needed to keep them charged. 

A climate change assessment released by researchers from UC Merced in January highlighted how the Central Valley bears the brunt of many major environmental warming impacts, including exceptionally poor air quality. The region’s bowl-shaped geography tends to trap particulate matter in the air, which then hovers at ground level until the rain washes it out. Inhaling particulate matter over long periods of time can cause health concerns like asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Populations here, often predominantly low-income Hispanic and Latino communities, are more likely to experience health concerns and an overall lower quality of life due to poor air quality and other effects of climate change.

John X. Mataka, who was with the Valley Improvement Projects and also with the Grace and Neighborhood Council, had echoed this sentiment, and voiced his support of the regulation due to living in a disadvantaged community, where the effects of pollution due to the various trucking hubs are affecting residents. He also stated that the people of his community could greatly benefit from jobs that are created from building charging infrastructure.

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