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Trucking Industry and Environmentalists Spar With Regulators as California Prepares to Phase Out Fossil-Fuel Trucks

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Semi truck speeding in front of wind turbines.

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Air Board staff believe that truckers and businesses would pay higher upfront prices for the vehicles, but expect those costs to come down as more models enter the market, ultimately bringing the cost down to that of a conventional truck.

Comparing diesel and electric trucks in 2035, staff predict that buying and operating an electric tractor-trailer over its lifetime, for example, could be between $765,000 and 1.1 million compared to a gasoline or diesel truck, which could cost between $919,000 and $1.2 million. . These totals exclude state and federal subsidies that some companies may receive to help pay for a truck.

Staff also said that reducing maintenance and operating costs will save fleet operators money over time.

Although trucks make up only 2 million of the state’s 30 million registered vehicles, they are the largest source of vehicle air pollution. According to the air commission, heavy trucks emit 70% of the state’s smog-forming gases and 80% of carcinogenic diesel pollutants.

Connie Leyva de Chino, Air Council member and Democratic state senator, acknowledged the disproportionate toll of air pollution that many communities have faced and the state’s role in this inequity.

“It’s probably a little inappropriate, but what I take away is that we’re hurting the poor,” she said. “Most of what’s happening is happening in poor parts of the state.”

Sam Wilson, senior vehicle analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a science advocacy organization, said the air commission needed to tighten the rule to get more emissions cuts from the worst-polluting trucks in order to avoid the harmful effects of diesel exhaust.

Speed ​​up rules for big trucks?

The proposal provides different timelines for the phasing in of new electric model sales, varying by truck size and type, until all are electric by 2042. In addition, conversion requirements fleets would not apply to small businesses that operate less than 50 trucks, unless they are using the trucks of a larger business. They could keep their trucks for as long as they want under the proposal, although their new purchases are expected to be zero emissions by 2040.

Wilson said the requirement for fleet operators who run some of the biggest, dirtiest trucks — such as long-haul, big trucks and tractor-trailers — should be put on an electrification schedule. faster, with a phased start date of 2027 rather than 2030.

Close up of a hydrogen fuel cell truck driving on a road. According to the California Air Resources Board, fossil-fuel heavy-duty trucks emit 70% of the state’s smog-forming gases and 80% of carcinogenic diesel pollutants. (Aranga87/Getty Images)

He also said the proposed 50-truck threshold should be lowered to 10 trucks for such fleet operators, given the outsized role large trucks play in emitting deadly soot pollution. A fleet of 10 tractor trucks emits about three times as much nitrogen oxide – a smog-forming pollutant – and about the same amount of fine particles as a fleet of 50 delivery vans, according to staff estimates. the Air Board.

“There is a difference in the amount of pollution emitted between a plumbing company that has 50 vans, for example, and a transport company that has 50 tractor trucks,” he said. “To account for this, a fleet of tractor trucks should have a compliance threshold of 10 rather than 50 just to account for the hugely disproportionate impact they have.”

Randolph, the chairman of the board, said it would be “counterproductive” to pursue certain actions demanded by environmentalists, including reducing the size of the fleet or advancing deadlines for certain classifications of trucks , suggesting that it “could create more of a burden than necessary” on the trucking industry. She did, however, support the idea of ​​moving the manufacturer’s production schedule forward, which many board members also endorsed. The board asked staff to evaluate this possibility and other changes to the rule to address pricing, network and vehicle availability issues.

“As a board, we should be discussing the possibility of a 100% forward sale through 2036 and really pushing manufacturers to step up and make these vehicles available,” she added.

Should other states follow?

A coalition of representatives from several states, including New York, Washington, Wisconsin and Connecticut, urged the board to adopt the rule and said they would also enforce it in their states.

“Council approval of the Advanced Clean Fleet Regulations will allow New York and other states to adopt these regulations to support the necessary transition to zero-emissions transportation and cleaner, healthier communities,” said Jared Snyder, deputy commissioner for Air Resources, Climate Change and Energy at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Although California lawmakers have no direct say in whether or not the council passes the rule, dozens of lawmakers weighed in on the proposal — and largely disagreed on it.

In a letter to the Air Council, a group of state lawmakers, including Democrats Sens. Nancy Skinner of Berkeley and Josh Becker of Menlo Park, and Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia of Bell Gardens, agreed with the environmentalists. They note that these changes are achievable thanks to this year’s massive $54 billion climate investment, which includes $10 billion in public funding to rapidly deploy electric vehicles and charging stations.

The climate package allocates billions for the electrification of medium and heavy trucks, including $1.1 billion for zero-emission trucks, buses, off-road equipment and refueling infrastructure and $400 million for charging stations in ports. Truckers and businesses could get additional benefits from the federal Cut Inflation Act, which includes a 30% tax credit for commercial vehicles and zero-emission charging stations.

But in a separate statement, some lawmakers, including Democratic Assemblymen Blanca Rubio of Baldwin Park, Carlos Villapudua of Stockton and Rudy Salas of Bakersfield — particularly those in rural areas or with a high concentration of fleet operators in their districts – have sided with the trucking industry, saying the proposal is too “aggressive” and imposes numerous financial burdens on fleet operators. They also said the plan does not address many technical challenges, such as electric trucks tolling onto the grid as electricity demand increases, and the fast-charging needs of water-heavy rental vehicles. and dump trucks that operate in remote locations. .

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