California seeks to ban the sale of large diesel rigs in a bold attempt to reduce pollution

Pollution from medium and heavy trucks makes up a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions from the California transportation industry. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

By claiming to have a “moral obligation,” California regulators could soon ban the sale of large diesel plants by 2040, ending a long reliance on the polluting vehicles that are the backbone of the American economy.

The California Air Resources Board’s staff proposal would also require that, by 2035, medium and heavy trucks entering ports and rail yards must be carbon neutral and state and local fleets are carbon neutral by 2027.

The new regulations would likely require a radical build-up of electric charging infrastructure, placing new strain on California’s already fragile power grid and forcing the trucking industry to reshape the way it operates. Regulators and activists say any disruption would ultimately be offset by saved lives and money.

“Pound for pound, heavy trucks are emitting far more pollution than anything else on the road,” said Will Barrett, senior national director for clean air defense with the American Lung Assn. “And that really contributes directly to the fact that California has the worst air pollution in the country.”

The proposal follows the council’s vote last month to end the sale of new gas-powered passenger cars and light trucks by 2035, citing the urgent need to combat man-made climate change. The combination of measures puts strong pressure on manufacturers and policy makers to move faster towards zero-emission vehicles.

The California Air Resources Board, which is due to vote on the truck proposal, is expected to consider it on October 27.

Many who rely on trucks for work or commerce are concerned that the state is not ready for such a rapid transformation.

“There is no infrastructure to support this,” said Chris Shimoda, vice president of California Trucking Assn.

Although California has built the charging infrastructure as of today, it said there is unlikely to be enough to support the 400,000 large rigs traveling up and down the state by the deadline.

There are already 1,900 medium and heavy-duty zero-emission vehicles operating in California, most of which are transit buses.

“It would be the next significant step in accelerating towards a zero-emission (ZE) transportation system and a fairer future in California,” the proposal says.

One of the most common vehicles in American industry, the diesel truck is known for being economical, easy to drive, and durable, capable of carrying tons of goods for thousands of miles. But the cost has often been high for communities near ports or in warehouse districts where large rigs rumbling around the clock emitting toxic discharges.

Their diesel combustion engines leave a trail of smog-forming nitric oxide and lung-burning diesel particles that researchers have linked to asthma, cancer, chronic heart disease, heart attacks and other respiratory elements. Trucks are the largest source of nitric oxide emissions in California.

State aviation regulators wrote they have “legal and moral obligations” to reduce the pollution that big rigs and other trucks leave in vulnerable communities, adding that the changes could significantly reduce the amount of greenhouse gases.

Under the proposed regulations, even large fleet operators like Amazon, Walmart and other companies would convert all of their trucks operating in the state into zero-emission vehicles by 2042.

Regulators estimate that these moves, which would target all large fossil fuel-powered plants, would save 5,000 Californian lives between 2024 and 2050 by preventing premature deaths and cut healthcare costs by $ 57 billion.

Low-income communities of color experience a disproportionate health impact from trucking transportation, including an increased risk of cancer and heart attacks, from diesel particulate matter as they are often the groups that live close to major highways, warehouses, ports, rail yards and other places where trucks collect, Barrett said.

Those environmental inequalities were a key consideration in the council’s drive towards zero emissions.

“Decades of racist and classist practices, including exclusion and siting decisions, have concentrated HGV and freight activities in these communities, with concomitant disproportionate pollution burdens,” the regulators said in their proposed rules.

“The rule is truly monumental. This is the only way to eliminate diesel from our community, ”said Andrea Vidaurre, a political analyst at the People’s Collective for Environmental Justice, a non-profit organization based in the Inland Empire.

The region is the heart of the nation’s distribution centers, where Amazon is building one of its largest warehouses and thousands of trucks come and go every day, often passing through residential areas.

“Right now you have 1,000 trucks per hour driving near schools or communities in the Inland Empire,” he said. “It’s like hundreds of streets across the Inland Empire dealing with diesel leaking out of windows, in people’s homes, diesel leaking into the lungs of children playing, diesel stopping people from going to play outside. This is all real stuff. And we are talking about people’s lives ”.

Shimoda, of the trucking association, said regulators have not thought about the consequences of their timeline.

Fastest big rig charging stations often take three to four hours, which is precious time when truckers wait for deliveries. Fast chargers take less time but draw immense levels of energy that could strain the power grid, especially during Flex alerts.

In its analysis, the resource council recognized the importance of an “ultra-high power charging system” that would reduce vehicle charging times to less than an hour, but noted that the technology is still under development. .

“It won’t work, given how overly tight the supply chain is,” Shimoda said. “We don’t have an answer for this problem at this time.”

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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