Biden administration approves California’s plan to steer away from gas-power to zero-emission vehicles with new limits on heavy-duty trucks
CALIFORNIA – The state officially has the green light to start phasing out diesel-powered trucks as part of a statewide effort to improve air quality and cut down on vehicle emissions.
According to the American Lung Association, California is one of the most polluted places to live in the nation. On a 25-tiered list of counties with the worst pollution levels, last updated on Feb. 5, a handful of California’s counties take up the majority, including Tulare, Fresno and Kern counties; all three of which have failing grades for ozone pollution as well as short-term and year round particle pollution.
As of March 31, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has accepted a request from the California Air Resource Board (CARB) for updated standards on trucks and engine emissions in an effort to address the issue overall. Now truck manufacturers are expected to accelerate the sales of zero emission medium and heavy-duty vehicles starting 2024 to work towards the state’s goal of selling all electric vehicles by 2035.
“Under the Clean Air Act, California has long standing authority to address pollution from cars and trucks,” EPA administrator Michael Regan said via statement. “[This] announcement allows the state to take additional steps in reducing their transportation emissions through these new regulatory actions.”
According to a recent study from the American Lung Association, the nation’s leading organization on improved lung health and disease prevention, heavy-duty vehicles deliver more than just cargo; they also contribute major doses of pollution to communities throughout the nation. Although medium and heavy-duty vehicles represent about 6% of the on-road fleet as of 2020, they generate 59% of ozone and particle-forming NOx emissions and 55% of the particle pollution – including brake and tire particles.
NOx (nitrogen oxides) are a family of poisonous, highly reactive gasses emitted by automobiles, trucks and various non-road vehicles, amongst other things. According to the EPA, these gasses form when fuel is burned at high temperatures and play a major role in the production of ozone, known as smog, on hot summer days.
The EPA is in charge of establishing and regulating the nation’s air standards to protect public health as well as the environment. However, California has almost continuously received waivers from the EPA to set its own higher air standards over the last fifty years, and has received over 100 since it received its first one in 1968.
According to CARB, this is because the state must meet compelling and extraordinary standards, as California has a serious smog problem. This problem has become worse with climate change impacting precipitation and snowpacks and exacerbating wildfires. On CARB’s website, it is stated that ten million Californians in the San Joaquin Valley and Los Angeles air basins live under what’s considered to be “severe nonattainment” conditions for ozone pollution.
“People in these areas suffer unusually high rates of asthma and cardiopulmonary disease. Zero-emission vehicles are a critical part of the plan to protect Californians,” CARB stated on its website.
According to the office of Governor Gavin Newsom, this decision has allowed California to become the world’s first government to require zero-emission trucks and pave the way for clean trucks and buses across the globe. Shortly after the EPA’s announcement, Newsom issued a statement in support of the determination, saying this is a big deal for action against climate change.
“We’re leading the charge to get dirty trucks and buses – the most polluting vehicles – off our streets, and other states and countries are lining up to follow our lead around the world,” Newsom said via statement.
Since the state’s standards are at least as protective as EPA standards, if not stricter to meet more severe conditions, other states can opt to adopt California’s motor vehicle emission standards. According to the governor’s office, eight states are currently en route to adopt these zero-emission vehicle standards as their own.
The decision also warranted a show of support from California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who issued a statement celebrating the acceptance of this decision.
“I applaud EPA for approving California’s commonsense standards to reduce air pollution from heavy-duty trucks. California’s standards are crucial for our communities, public health and our planet,” Bonta said via statement.
According to the statement, the state’s transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., and continues to be a major source of NOx and particulate matter emissions as well. Heavy-duty trucks are the second largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the sector, so the statement noted that California’s heavy-duty truck standards are crucial to the state’s ability to address the climate crisis and protect frontline communities living near transportation corridors.
“California is a nationwide leader when it comes to combating climate change and air pollution, and EPA’s decision today is another important step in advancing the state’s climate and air-quality goals,” Bonta said via statement.
However, despite the overwhelming support coming down from the state, this accelerated push towards zero-emission vehicles has raised concerns in California’s agricultural communities. From the Fresno County Farm Bureau, CEO Ryan Jacobsen noted that agriculture is dependent on using trucks to transport products from fields into markets.
“As we look at a proposal like this, that is very accelerated, it becomes concerning to know whether or not this technology exists at a cost effective number for us in agriculture to be able to replace this equipment so quickly,” Jacobsen said.
According to Jacobsen, zero-emission trucks are dramatically more expensive and, depending on the size and weight of the truck that’s needed, could be difficult to come across due to supply chain issues being experienced globally. If there are not enough of these trucks constructed in accordance with this accelerated phase-out timeline, he said there is potential for a shortage of the zero-emission trucks with these new regulations.
“The state wants to accelerate the technology, but the big question right now is just whether or not there’s going to be enough availability to not only deal with California, but with other states and parts of the world dealing with the same type of regulatory pushes,” Jacobsen said.
From CARB, public information officer Dave Clergen confirmed there are currently about 150 of the zero-emission trucks available for order or up for sale on lots, but he also confirmed that more are on the way. Not only that, but he said CARB has expensive funding incentives in place to help people obtain the vehicles, like the On-Road Heavy-Duty Voucher Incentive Program (VIP).
VIP provides citizens with fewer than 10 trucks the opportunity to get help in replacing their older heavy-duty diesel or alternative fuel vehicles to zero-emission ones. There are a handful of other programs and grants available on the CARB website under the section “On-Road Heavy-Duty Funding Opportunities.”