California’s Air Board Votes to Scale Down Fleets of Diesel Trucks

The California Air Resources Board approved an ambitious plan today to phase out its diesel truck fleets, from semi-trucks to delivery vans and garbage trucks, despite the opposition of industry groups who said the plan would be near impossible for them to enact.

It is the air board’s latest regulation geared at cleaning up toxic air quality and fighting climate change, and comes a day after the same body passed first-in-the-nation regulations on diesel trains.

The state’s powerful air regulators have been California’s spearpoint in the fight against climate change in recent years, as they’ve charted an ambitious path to siphon down the state’s use of planet-warming fossil fuels over the next two decades, including banning the sale of new gasoline cars after 2035 and forcing the electrification of most of the state’s transportation sector, the largest contributor of carbon emissions in California.

Gideon Kracov, a board member and environmental lawyer from Los Angeles, framed the clean-fleet policy as an ambitious capstone for an agency that has passed no shortage of first-in-the-nation climate rules, calling it the “end of the beginning.”

Board Chair Liane Randolph said in a statement that California has the technology to build a zero-emission future now and called the new regulations a “reasonable” and “innovative” approach to “clean up the vehicles on our roads and ensure that Californians have the clean air that they want and deserve.”

While these 1.8 million trucks represent a tiny fraction of vehicles on the road at just 6%, they are responsible for more than a quarter of the transportation sector’s greenhouse gas pollution (PDF).

The state’s new regulations are meant to accelerate the use of zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty trucks in California within the next two decades and will require the electrification by 2035 of highly polluting drayage trucks, which transport shipping containers from ports and rail yards.

Board member Tania Pacheco-Werner, who is co-director of a health policy institute at Fresno State, framed the policy as an issue of environmental justice.“Even the air is unequal,” she said. “Wealthier communities have more resources, green space and built environment to protect them from the harmful impacts of dirty trucks. Others do not. And we see it in differences in emergency visits and hospitalizations due to respiratory issues for people who live closer to freeways and truck traffic.

She said the policy will improve their lives “first and foremost, and we should all be very proud of that.”

During board hearings that spanned two days, industry groups and government agencies fiercely pushed back on the policies, arguing they are too onerous and would drive up costs for Californians.

Chris Shimoda, senior vice president of government affairs for the California Trucking Association, told KQED that the state doesn’t have enough charging infrastructure for electric trucks, particularly public charging stations, adding that “nearly 100% of our membership says [the rules] cannot be accomplished.”

Jim Verburg of the Western States Petroleum Association told the board that if businesses couldn’t comply it would “compromise the delivery of essential goods and services to Californians or compromise the state’s economy.”

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