Lawsuit targets historic clean truck rule

Source: By Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, August 3, 2020

The complaint from the California Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition, filed Friday in state superior court in Fresno, challenges the legality of the Advanced Clean Trucks regulation.

The California Air Resources Board voted last month to adopt the rule, which would require that truck manufacturers sell a certain percentage of zero-emissions trucks in the state starting in 2024 (Climatewire, June 26).

The stringency of the requirements would increase gradually each year, with the goal of putting 300,000 electric trucks on California’s roads by 2035 and phasing out diesel trucks by 2045.

Environmental and public health groups have voiced support for the rule, noting that heavy-duty trucks are responsible for a third of California’s smog-causing nitrogen oxides (NOx) and a fifth of its greenhouse gases.

But according to the California Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition, whose members include natural gas vehicle and engine manufacturers, the rule violates the California Environmental Quality Act and the California Administrative Procedure Act.

“CARB violated the California Environmental Policy Act (CEQA) by failing to adopt, or even meaningfully consider, feasible mitigation measures and alternatives put forth by concerned stakeholders, and drew its objectives so narrowly that it excluded pathways that could have mitigated some of the regulation’s impacts,” wrote Thomas Lawson, president of the California Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition, in an email to E&E News.

The group also believes the board ran afoul of the Administrative Procedure Act “by failing to consider the regulation’s effects on in-state business and by using flawed economic projections concerning the costs of the zero emission vehicle regulations on California’s trucking industry — some of which has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lawson added.

In addition, the lawsuit contends CARB should have included low-NOx natural gas vehicles in the rule’s definition of low-emissions vehicles.

By failing to include low-NOx natural gas vehicles, the board ignored an alternative technology that has lower NOx emissions than older diesel vehicles, the suit claims. NOx is a key contributor to ground-level ozone, or smog.

“The regulation allows truck fleets to continue buying and operating diesel trucks for many years — even when California faces critical 2023 and 2031 attainment deadlines for ozone reduction under the federal Clean Air Act,” noted Lawson.

Representatives from the coalition made a similar argument at the CARB meeting last month, along with representatives from Southern California Gas Co., the nation’s largest gas utility.

But CARB Chairwoman Mary Nichols appeared skeptical, saying, “This rule is intended to be a zero-emission rule. … That’s not what this rule is about.”

The complaint represents a last-ditch attempt by the natural gas industry to scrap the regulation, according to David Pettit, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“A desperation move by a dying industry,” Pettit wrote on Twitter.

A CARB spokeswoman said in an email to E&E News that the board doesn’t comment on pending litigation.