California Requires Electric Truck Sales in 'First in the World' Regulations

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Trucks line up to enter a berth at the Port of Oakland on Feb. 11, 2015, in Oakland, California.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The California Air Resources Board on Thursday adopted a suite of unprecedented manufacturing rules meant to create a parade of electric pickup trucks, delivery vans and big rigs riding California’s roads within the next 15 years.

The new regulations require manufacturers to sell electric vehicles as a small part of their total sales beginning in 2024. The percentage will then increase annually until the year 2035, when 55% of all new sales of noncommercial vans and full-size pickup trucks must be electric, along with 75% of buses and commercial delivery vans. The mandate calls for 40% of big-rig tractor sales to be electric by 2035, as well.

The air resources board estimates the rules will save 17.9 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from spewing into the atmosphere through the year 2040.

Both CARB, in a press release, and agency chair Mary Nichols called the new rule the first of its kind in the world.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement that “Even in the midst of a global pandemic, climate change is still an existential threat — both to our way of life and our children’s health . Communities and children of color are often forced to breathe our most polluted air, and today’s vote moves us closer toward a healthier future for all of our kids.”

CARB officials say the rules will curb pollution, especially in Richmond, West Oakland, the Inland Empire and other valley neighborhoods that surround California’s busiest ports and lie underneath its interstate freeways, where the most impacted people are disproportionately immigrants, African Americans and other people of color. 

The rules are also designed to help California meet its goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from  1990 levels by 2030 and 80% by 2050.

California met its 2020 climate goal early, but the state is behind in its efforts to reach the next targets, which will require steep cuts in emissions from the transportation sector — one of the most difficult areas to decarbonize, especially in California, the most populous state in the nation, marked by sprawling suburbs and grueling commutes.

A third of U.S. vegetables and two-thirds of U.S. fruits and nuts are grown in the state for distribution across the country, often on freight lines and with trucks powered by diesel fuel.

“An electric truck charged on today’s grid in California has 80% lower greenhouse gas emissions when compared with a diesel truck,” said Jimmy O’Dea, an analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “That’s a big impact. We know the grid is getting cleaner; we have policies in place for that.”

CARB set a new goal of all new trucks sold in California be zero-emission by the year 2045.

Toxic Smog

The vast majority of California’s smog-forming pollutants —about 80% — come from cars, trucks and a range of off-road equipment, as do almost all of its toxic diesel emissions and half of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to CARB.

Sooty diesel emissions from trucks accumulate in the lungs, causing asthma, cancer and other diseases.

Karla Briceño, 30, lives in San Bernardino, a few blocks away from the BNSF railyard and a 10-minute walk from Interstate 215. She says large trucks are the backdrop to her life, and she advocated for the board to pass the rules. She worries about the long-term health of her 1-year-old and 5-year-old boys, who have breathing troubles and use inhalers.

Karla Briceño (Courtesy of Karla Briceño)

“How sad is it that my first born has to use an inhaler to go outside and play?” she said. “And we all have to act like this is something that's normal. This should not be normal for any kid. They should be able to breathe on their own, and (they) should be able to enjoy the air outside and (they) should be able to play in their yards.”

'This Rule Advances Racial Justice'

CARB’s rulemaking, which has taken place over two years, has been closely followed by community advocates, environmentalists, industry groups and other states. There were five hours of public comments in advance of the much-anticipated vote.

"It's not just about the technology change,” said Andrea Vidaurre, a policy analyst for the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice. “It really is rooted in decades of community members saying that what was placed in their communities is endangering their health — the diesel pollution coming from these trucks, the supply chain, goods movement, freight, however you want to call it, whatever gets your package to your door, whatever gets the food to the shelf.”

“We should make no mistake, this rule advances racial justice,” said board member Diane Takvorian. “We need to recognize that these types of heavy-duty vehicles disproportionately impact communities of color and communities around ports, and this rule is going to give some relief.”


Industry Offers Mixed Support

Volvo, GM and other industry manufacturers offered qualified support for the rules and said they embrace a vision of an all-electric future, while expressing concern that the agency is moving too fast.

“We are confident in our ability to manufacture sufficient numbers of ZEV trucks, but we doubt the market's readiness to absorb the volumes proposed in this regulation,” said Dawn Fenton, vice president of government relations for Volvo.

Other industry groups like the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association say they support electric vehicles, but argue that the agency is overreaching. They recommended focussing on delivery trucks before making requirements of larger manufacturers, especially during an economic recession caused by the coronavirus.

In a letter to CARB dated March 23, Jed Mandel, the group’s president, asked the agency to delay a decision on the truck rules, saying it's “imperative that CARB take account of the incredible adverse impacts on manufacturers that have occurred, and that continue to evolve, as a direct result of the COVID-19 crisis.”