The Clean Air Act passed by Congress in 1967 was the first federal law to address tailpipe emissions from cars and trucks. It specifically empowered individual states to enact stricter standards to protect their citizens, provided they received a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency. California has had such an exemption for decades, but it only applied to passenger cars and light trucks. Heavy duty trucks such as cement mixers, tractor trailers or garbage trucks sold in California had to meet federal guidelines, but not more stringent California Air Resources Board standards.
In 2020, CARB proposed new heavy-duty truck rules and requested an exemption from the EPA to apply them to heavy-duty vehicles sold within its borders. On March 31, the EPA granted the state’s request. As a result, the Golden State will now require 55% of vans and small trucks, 75% of buses and larger trucks, and 40% of tractors and other large rigs sold in the state to be battery-electric by 2035 are. is expected to approve the final version of its Advanced Clean Trucks regulations later this month.
The new rules will come into effect next year and oblige manufacturers to produce emission-free trucks starting in 2024 with production targets increasing annually. According to estimates by the California Air Resources Board, the rules will reduce climate pollution by nearly three million tons per year by 2040. Heavy-duty trucks account for nearly a third of the state’s nitrous oxide and more than a quarter of fine particulate pollution from the combustion of diesel fuel. according to CNBC.
“California has been hard at work passing groundbreaking regulations to purify our air and protect our climate with zero-emission vehicles, so we are encouraged to see the EPA stand with California today and grant this exemption,” Paul Cort , director of the Earth justice Right to Zero campaign, said in a rack.
The Advanced Clean Truck law has already been passed by six other states: New York, New Jersey, Washington, Oregon, Massachusetts and Vermont. Earth justice says diesel trucks are dangerous to public health because diesel pollution causes asthma, lung disease and death, leading doctors to call neighborhoods with heavy diesel truck traffic “diesel death zones.”
“This is a moment to mark because it is a preview of the order of magnitude of change in the industry,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said in an interview, according to the New York Times. “There is a power in these waivers and that power is emulation. Through these waivers, we are adopting the principles and policies that drive innovation and investment.”
“Under the Clean Air Act, California has long had the authority to address pollution from cars and trucks,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan. “Today’s announcement allows the state to take additional steps to reduce their transportation emissions through these new regulatory measures.”
Push back on electric trucks
Not everyone is happy with what California and the EPA are doing. Jed Mandel, the president of the Engine Manufacturers Association, whose members make heavy-duty truck diesel engines and transmissions, said his members recognize California’s legal right to enforce the rule but are concerned it could hurt their business .
“We remain concerned that limiting manufacturers’ lead times to produce compliant vehicles will pose major challenges. Adequate lead time, regulatory stability and the necessary zero-emission charging and refueling infrastructure are imperative for manufacturers to develop, build and sell acceptable, effective products to the customer that are able to meet the mandate, he said in a statement.
Requiring manufacturers to sell a certain percentage of electric vehicles is a step beyond regulating tailpipe pollution, said Steven Bradbury, chief legal counsel for the Department of Transportation during the Trump administration. “If California can through regulation force the automakers and truck makers to change the types of vehicles they produce, that will effectively put those restrictions on the rest of the country. And you don’t yet have a business case that has been proven in the market that you can drive battery-powered heavy trucks and make them viable.”
Truckers claim the costs and difficulties of complying with the new regulations can be overwhelming. “Many of the California trucking rules recently passed and enacted are beginning to push truckers out of the state,” said Jay Grimes, director of federal affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “Drivers no longer want to work in California. They are skeptical about the fast timeline of this transition to electric trucks. Can a trucker get a load that will last him two or three days on the highway? Is the technology ready for prime time?”
Those are not idle questions. The California rules go very far, very fast. Virtually every product on the shelves of major stores or supplied by online retailers is transported from the point of manufacture to the end user in a truck powered by a diesel engine. The critics are correct in saying that the supply of electric trucks and the charging infrastructure needed to support them are virtually non-existent today. To comply with the new rules, something will have to change very quickly.
Meanwhile, 17 Republican-controlled states have filed suit to block the EPA heavy truck exemption. The case is pending in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. Regardless of the outcome of that appeal, the case will almost certainly end up in the fold of the US Supreme Court, where 6 of the sitting justices are lapdogs of the fossil fuel industry who have repeatedly shown little regard for precedent or judicial norms.
Fouling the nest
Whether it’s about switching to renewable energy or switching to clean vehicles, the underlying problem is the same. We as a species must stop fouling our own nest if we have any hope of leaving our descendants a habitable world. Will this be uncomfortable? Definitely. The world as we know it runs on fossil fuels. Changing that means changing how we live in important ways. That won’t be easy or convenient or simple. But it is necessary.
As regular reader Are Hansen recently commented, 70% of the energy created when we burn fossil fuels is wasted, mostly in the form of heat. How can we possibly justify such dissolute behavior, especially when there are alternatives that are 90% efficient?
A hundred mile journey begins with just one single step. We have to take that first step and we have to do it now – today – not tomorrow. Kicking the can on the road for convenience or to keep the profits of a privileged few is just plain suicidal. As John F. Kennedy famously said, “We don’t do these things because they are easy, but because they are hard.” It’s time to do the hard work it takes to preserve our precious Earth as a place where humans can continue to thrive for millennia to come. Let’s start.
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