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California to strengthen electric truck manufacturing standard

Flickr/Truck PR

Marking a victory for environmental, health and community groups, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has indicated it will strengthen elements of a controversial rule that would require medium- and heavy-duty truck manufacturers to make zero-emissions vehicles an increasing percentage of their California sales.

“After extensive comments from communities, environmental organizations and industry, CARB’s board directed staff to strengthen the clean truck rule and put more zero-emission delivery, box trucks and big-rigs on the road, reaching 100% ZEV sales sooner for several segments.” CARB chair Mary Nichols said in a tweet posted to her account on the evening of Dec. 12.

Nichols’ tweet following a much-anticipated hearing on the proposed clean truck mandate held earlier that day in Sacramento.

As the rule is currently written, zero-emission truck/chassis sales would need to be 7% of Class 4 to Class 8 straight truck sales and 3% of all other truck sales by 2024.

By 2030, they would need to be 50% of Class 4-8 straight trucks sales and 15% of all other truck sales.

But during the CARB hearing, more than 100 people criticized those targets, arguing that implementing a 50% sales standard by 2030 means that only 4% of the approximately 2 million medium- and heavy-duty trucks on the road would be zero-emissions vehicles.

That figure, critics said, is not enough to help meet state greenhouse gas emissions goals or reduce the pollution impacting low-income and minority communities in so-called  “diesel death zones,” areas of Southern California with high levels of truck pollution.

“We need a sales target that doesn’t ignore our lived community,” testified one community member representing an environmental justice group.  In a refrain that echoed throughout the hearing, she said 4% is an insult and that “we need to implement the most aggressive medium- and heavy-duty truck standard possible.”

Representatives from the American Lung Association, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), an Amazon warehouse workers’ group, the CAUSE youth organization and many more groups called on the Board to tighten the proposed standard by increasing the proportion of zero-emissions trucks on the road to 15% by 2030.

That on-road target would require boosting the sales targets in 2030 to 75%, up 25% from the proposed standard.

During the hearing, the often emotional testimony from environmental and community groups stood in contrast to the relatively muted commentary from the trucking industry.

Alex Cherin, executive director of the California Trucking Association’s Intermodal Conference, testified that the industry had invested $1 billion since 2008 to deploy cleaner trucks at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

The intermodal conference, he said, has demonstrated “unwavering support” for the replacement of “outdated technologies.”

Mike Tunnell, director of environmental affairs for the American Trucking Associations (ATA), expressed cautious support for electric trucks but emphasized the technology was in the early stages. He did not mention the rule’s sales targets.

“There is a great deal of intrigue when it comes to electric trucks but not a lot of experience,” Tunnell said.

Tunnell said there “is hope and anticipation that vehicles stand up to daily demands of industry.” But companies are evaluating prototypes at this point, “and we are just beginning the stages of understanding the challenges and opportunities.”

He reserved his strongest criticism for the rule’s reporting requirements.

In addition to the sales targets, the zero-emissions manufacturing standard would require fleets with 100 or more trucks to report on their existing fleet operations. Employers, retailers and manufacturers would also be bound by reporting requirements.

Trucks crossing state lines “are unlikely candidates” for the state’s initial electrification, Tunnell said, and ATA “do[es] not believe” they should be included in the rule’s reporting requirements.

California’s proposed electric truck manufacturing rule is a sales standard, not a fleet purchasing standard like the state’s Truck and Bus regulation. That is, fleets will not be required to buy electric trucks, but manufacturers will be under a mandate to sell them. 

Companies that manufacture clean trucks will be able to sell credits to conventional truck makers that can’t or won’t invest in developing zero-emission vehicles.

In letters submitted to CARB, and in previous interviews with FreightWaves, truck manufacturers have expressed concern about the state providing sufficient incentives for purchasing electric trucks, as well as lack of  charging infrastructure to fuel the new clean fleets.

The CARB hearing comes as momentum grows around the country for more aggressive zero-emissions vehicle standards.

On Dec. 11, eight states — California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont — committed to developing an agreement and action plan to put hundreds of thousands more zero-emission trucks and buses onto their roads and highways.

The multi-state effort will be facilitated by the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM).

Also on Dec. 11, the UCS released a report calling for accelerated electrification of trucks and buses. Titled “Ready for Work: Now Is the Time for Heavy-Duty Electric Vehicles,” the report states that electric trucks emit 44-79% less emissions than diesel trucks, depending on the type of vehicle. They have zero tailpipe emissions. Further, ownership costs can be lower. 

“Fuel and maintenance savings can offset the higher upfront costs of heavy-duty electric vehicles, making them cheaper than a diesel or natural gas vehicle over the life of a vehicle,” the report said.

In her twitter post, Nichols said staff will work with stakeholders on a new version of the standard. A final vote will take place in spring 2020.

This article has been updated to include Nichols’ statement.

Linda Baker, Senior Environment and Technology Reporter

Linda Baker is a FreightWaves senior reporter based in Portland, Oregon. Her beat includes autonomous vehicles, the startup scene, clean trucking, and emissions regulations. Please send tips and story ideas to [email protected]