California could ban sales of new diesel big rigs by 2040

California regulators may soon ban the sale of large diesel rigs through 2040, arguing they have a “moral obligation,” ending the long-standing reliance on polluting vehicles that form the backbone of America’s economy.

The proposal by California Air Resources Board officials would also require that by 2035, medium and heavy-duty trucks entering ports and train stations be zero-emissions, and that state and local government fleets be so by 2027.

The new regulations would likely require a radical overhaul of electric charging infrastructure, putting new strain on California’s already fragile power grid and forcing the trucking industry to transform the way it does business. Regulators and activists say any disruption would ultimately be outweighed by lives and money saved.

“Pound for pound, heavy trucks create far more pollution than anything else on the road,” said Will Barrett, senior national director of clean air action at 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 last month’s board vote to end sales of new gas-powered passenger cars and light trucks by 2035 and highlights the urgent need to tackle human-caused climate change. The combination of measures puts manufacturers and politicians under strong pressure to switch to zero-emission vehicles more quickly.

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

Many who rely on the 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 the California Trucking Assn.

Even if California were to build charging infrastructure starting today, it’s unlikely there would be enough by the deadline to support the 400,000 major oil rigs that cruise up and down the state.

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

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

One of the most widely used vehicles in American industry, the diesel truck is known for being cheap, easy to drive, durable and capable of hauling tons of cargo thousands of miles. But the cost has often been high for communities near ports or in storage areas where large oil rigs rumble by 24 hours a day, spewing toxic fumes.

Their diesel internal combustion engines leave a trail of smog-forming nitrous oxide and lung-damaging diesel particulates, which researchers have linked to asthma, cancer, chronic heart disease, heart attacks and other respiratory diseases. Trucks are the largest source of nitrogen oxide emissions in California.

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

Under the proposed rules, major fleet operators such as Amazon, Walmart and others would also convert all of their trucks operating in the state to zero-emission vehicles by 2042.

Regulators estimate these measures, which target all major oil rigs powered by fossil fuels, would save 5,000 Californian lives between 2024 and 2050 by preventing premature deaths and reduce healthcare costs by $57 billion.

Lower-income black communities face disproportionate health effects from trucking, including an increased risk of cancer and heart attack, from diesel particulate matter, as they are often the groups living near major highways, warehouses, ports, train stations and other locations live where trucks arrive, Barrett said.

These environmental injustices have been a critical aspect of the Board’s pursuit of zero emissions.

“Decades of racist and classist practices, including red-lining and site decisions, have concentrated heavy vehicle and cargo activity in these communities, with a concomitant disproportionate pollution burden,” he said Regulators said in their proposed rules.

“The rule is really monumental. It’s the only way we can get diesel out of our community,” said Andrea Vidaurre, policy 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 country’s distribution centers, where Amazon is building one of its largest warehouses and thousands of trucks come and go daily, often through residential areas.

“Right now you have 1,000 trucks an hour going alongside schools or communities in the Inland Empire,” she said. “It’s like hundreds of streets across the Inland Empire being confronted with diesel splattering on windows, into people’s homes, diesel squirting into the lungs of children at play, diesel causing people to… can’t play outside. This is all real stuff. And we talk about people’s lives.”

The Truck Association’s Shimoda said regulators had not thought through the consequences of their schedule.

Often the fastest large charging stations take three to four hours, precious time when truckers are waiting for deliveries. Fast chargers take less time but suck up immense amounts of energy that could tax the grid, especially during Flex Alerts.

In its own analysis, the Resource Board recognized the importance of an “extremely powerful charging system” that would reduce vehicle charging times to less than an hour, but noted that the technology is still evolving.

“That won’t work given the congested supply chain,” Shimoda said. “We don’t have an answer to this problem at the moment.” California could ban sales of new diesel big rigs by 2040

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