Calif. readies first U.S. plan for zero-emissions trucks

Source: By David Iaconangelo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, December 9, 2019

Officials on the California Air Resources Board (CARB) will hold a hearing Dec. 12 on a draft rule that would impose the first zero-emissions sales requirements on truck manufacturers. The agency unveiled the proposal in late October, following three years of research and public outreach (Climatewire, Oct. 23).

If approved, it could be California’s most serious step toward electrifying the heaviest classes of vehicles. And air officials from eight Northeast states have urged passage of the rule, raising the prospect that they could adopt identical mandates, as 10 states have for light-duty electric sales.

“States in the region are interested, actively engaged and looking forward to seeing the final regulation,” said Coralie Cooper, deputy director of the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM), a consortium of air quality officials from the Northeast.

Officials there would contemplate whether California’s draft regulations were “the right fit for their greenhouse gas targets,” she added.

Under the proposed Advanced Clean Trucks rule, 15% to 50% of the new medium- and heavy-duty vehicles sold in California would have to be all-electric by 2030.

The exact proportions would depend on the current state of the market. Delivery trucks and transit buses, which are already being produced by several manufacturers and have seen large orders from corporate and municipal customers, would be among the vehicle types subject to the 50% sales requirement.

Tractor-trailers, conversely, would be grouped under the 15% requirement. And large kinds of pickup trucks and vans would be entirely exempt from the rule until 2027 — a feature that CARB attributed to lack of clarity around zero-emissions models’ towing capacity and range.

In total, the sales mandate would electrify roughly 4% of the large trucks, buses, tractors and vans on the road in California by decade’s end, according to an estimate performed by several environmentalist groups that was confirmed as accurate by CARB.

Officials at the agency characterize the rule as an emissions-reduction measure that could be of special help to port authorities, which want to decarbonize trucks that leave a heavy footprint on air quality in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

In the San Joaquin Valley and South Coast Air Basin — which the agency says have “the most critical air quality challenges” in California — medium- and heavy-duty vehicles contribute 35% of nitrogen oxide emissions, making them by far the largest single source.

‘Costly and burdensome’?

For the heaviest vehicles, the mandate could present an important public test for battery-electric models. A 2017 analysis by McKinsey & Co., for instance, called batteries “unfavorable” for long-haul uses, given the size and cost of the batteries required, and projected the electrification of about 2% of heavy-duty sales by 2030.

CARB’s draft rule could also drive new business for hydrogen fuel-cell carmakers, seen by many analysts and corporate customers as useful for decarbonizing for the largest vehicle classes. Last year, Anheuser-Busch Cos. LLC announced an order for 800 long-haul trucks manufactured by startup Nikola Motor Co. last year.

Air officials at NESCAUM say the effects of a mandate would ripple out across other states.

“We believe our states will benefit significantly from California’s efforts,” wrote Executive Director Paul Miller in a Nov. 22 letter to CARB. “A strong mandate in California will help introduce more zero-emission technologies in the U.S. market, provided certainty for vehicle manufacturers and fleet operators,” and move states toward their climate goals.

Miller also suggested the state could consider raising the 15% sales requirement for work pickups, long-haulers and other types — a comment that echoes one of the demands made by a 17-member group of environmentalists and labor, public health and environmental justice advocates.

Those groups, which include the Sierra Club and a local of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, have criticized the proposed mandate as needlessly conservative and argued that much higher percentages are “feasible with today’s technology.”

By 2030, they say, a full 15% of heavier-duty vehicles on the road in California should be electric — not just 15% of the sales.

At least two California legislators, including one that has sponsored far-reaching climate bills in the past, have sided with the groups.

“The rule needs to be more ambitious if the state is going to meet statewide gas reduction goals,” wrote state Assembly members Phil Ting and Eloise Gómez Reyes in a Nov. 27 letter to CARB.

Yet CARB appears unlikely to bend to environmentalist demands for tougher requirements.

“We must consider the realities of the market, and considering the age of average trucks on the road in California and how quickly an owner must replace them, four percent appears realistic,” wrote CARB spokesman David Clegern. “We cannot require operators to give up a well-operating diesel vehicle.”

Officials at CARB appear to have won the consent of manufacturers — nearly all of which have announced plans for electrified models — after meeting with them during the rule’s development.

“The industry agrees the 4 percent figure is achievable,” Clegern, a public information officer at the agency, wrote in an email.

Three of the nation’s largest truck manufacturers — Volvo, Navistar and Daimler AG — did not respond to questions from E&E News about the rule.

One part of CARB’s proposal has sparked protests from a large number of California’s trucking-dependent businesses, including farmers, equipment dealers, warehousers and gas fuel interests.

Companies that use fleets of 100 vehicles or larger, or that pull in at least $50 million in annual revenues, would be required to submit information about their fleets or contracting practices. Nearly 60 groups, represented by the California Chamber of Commerce, signed onto a letter asking CARB to slow-walk development of the vague, “costly and burdensome” requirement.