California set to mandate zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles

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The California Air Resources Board met Thursday and agreed to move forward with plans to mandate a transition to zero-emission trucks, shuttles and certain other buses starting in 2024. A final decision on the Advanced Clean Fleet Regulation will take place in the spring of 2023.

The action aims to fight against pollution. Medium and heavy-duty vehicles contribute disproportionately to greenhouse gas and nitrogen oxide emissions from the transportation sector, CARB notes.

Under the plan currently on the table, only zero-emission medium and heavy-duty trucks could be sold in California starting with model year 2040. For federal and commercial fleets of 50 additional vehicles, or those owned by an entity with more than $50 million in gross revenue, all new trucks purchased in California after January 1, 2024 must be zero-emission vehicles. Different vehicle types and uses would have different phase-in dates under the plan that CARB is considering.

State and local governments are expected to purchase zero-emission vehicles representing 50% of additions to their fleets beginning in 2024. All new purchases are expected to be ZEVs beginning in 2027.

Exemptions would be granted to fleet owners when these vehicles are unavailable, cannot meet daily needs or travel less than 1,000 miles per year. ZEV deliveries may be pushed back a year if construction of charging infrastructure is delayed. Agencies in low-population counties would be exempt until 2027.

Commercial fleets would be required to purchase only box trucks, vans, two-axle buses, construction trucks and zero-emission light delivery vehicles beginning in 2035. Other single-unit trucks, tractors day cabs and three-axle buses would have to meet this requirement in 2039, and sleeper cab tractors and specialized vehicles would have until 2042 to comply.

“Zero-emission vehicles are the only technology that completely eliminates exhaust pollution in communities heavily impacted by truck traffic,” said Board Chair Lianne Randolph in his opening speech. Noting that most ports and rail yards in California are within a mile of disadvantaged communities, she said “those communities will directly benefit from this regulation.”

Andrea Vidaurresenior policy analyst for the People’s Collective for Environmental Justice, said in an interview before the hearing that “communities across the state are experiencing massive industrialization.”

In the area known as Inner Empirecentered around the towns of Riverside and San Bernardino, there is a approximately 1 billion square feet of warehouse space, with trucks coming and going all day. “Many truck routes in our communities are right by homes and schools,” Vidaurre said.

Vidaurre and other community advocates, speaking at the hearing, want to see even stricter regulations. Their key demands include reducing the size of the Class 7 and 8 tractor fleet from 50 to 10 vehicles and advancing the mandatory 100% ZEV sales model year from 2040 to 2036.

California isn’t alone in pushing for cleaner trucks. On Tuesday, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper released a decree obliging truck manufacturers sell an increasing percentage of zero-emission medium and heavy-duty trucks in the state over time. In 2020, North Carolina was also a signatory to a multi-state agreement requiring 100% zero-emission truck sales by 2050. California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia also signed the memorandum.

As for the recently enacted California ban on new petrol cars as of 2035, 17 other states and the District of Columbia can adopt California standards instead of less restrictive federal requirements under the Clean Air Act.

The proposed regulations “will set the bar not just for California, but for many states,” Sam Call, California state director for the BlueGreen Alliance, said in an interview this week. “It’s probably the most important rule in the country in a long time when it comes to pollution, emissions, environmental justice, and workers and companies in the trucking industry.”

Whereas transit and school buses are regulated separately, the Advanced Clean Fleet regulation would cover two- and three-axle buses. Some intercity bus operators are already test electric buses.

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