California mandated a switch yesterday to nonpolluting shuttles and buses running short hops at its largest airports.

The California Air Resources Board unanimously passed the policy, the first of its kind in the nation. It requires by 2035 a switch to zero-emission vehicles at 13 airports: San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, San Jose, Oakland and Ontario International, along with commuter airports in Orange County, Burbank-Hollywood, Long Beach, Palm Springs, Fresno and Santa Barbara.

It affects vans and buses carrying people to airport parking lots, rental cars and nearby hotels.

"Shuttles are a vital part of airport activity," said Richard Corey, CARB's executive officer. "The transition to zero-emission shuttles not only provides consumers with clean, quiet transport but will help further expand the reach of this ultra-clean technology into the heavy-duty transportation sector."

California has some of the most ambitious climate-focused rules in the country. It aims to shrink carbon emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. It's positioned itself as a leader in the "resistance" to the Trump administration, which is working to repeal many climate-focused rules.

Transportation represents the biggest emissions source in California, at 50% if oil refineries are included.

The nation's most populous state for several years has been targeting passenger cars, offering rebates and other incentives to get consumers to switch to electric and hydrogen-fueled options. CARB now is also focusing on trying to shift the heavy-duty sector. The agency is developing a proposal that would require zero-emission airport ground equipment.

Zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) shuttles are operating at airports in New York City; New Jersey; Atlanta; Kansas City; Indianapolis; and Raleigh, N.C. Those vehicles "demonstrate the technological and market readiness of ZEVs for airport operations," CARB said in a statement.

The Golden State currently has 48 ZEV shuttles and vans at airports, with nearly 100 more on order. Some of those were funded through Federal Aviation Administration grants. San Jose International Airport recently received a $4.8 million grant, while Sacramento International Airport won $2 million.

Combined, on-order and currently operating ZEV shuttles represent about 15% of all airport shuttles in California, CARB said, but more are needed to meet the state's climate goals.

The California rule would require fleets to have 33% ZEVs by 2027, 66% by 2031 and full compliance by 2035. It would apply to vans, buses and similar vehicles that run a regular route of up to 30 miles in length and that use a depot site up to 15 miles from the airport.

When fully put in place, the ZEV rule would cut 35,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. That's equivalent to taking more than 7,400 gas-fueled passenger cars off the road each year.

Dr. Alex Sherriffs, a CARB board member, said he was optimistic about how quickly vehicles could switch to ZEVs. As there are now 15% that are ZEVs, he said, to double that by 2027 "in some ways it seems like a long time given the demonstrated success."

"We need to think about the things we can do to help people get there quicker," he said, "because clearly it's quite feasible."

Jack Kitowski, CARB Mobile Source Control Division chief, said he could envision a "tipping point" where adoption would happen faster. However, he said, there are infrastructure and workforce training issues that make going slower necessary.

ZEV shuttles cost more

Green groups at the CARB meeting supported the move.

"Climate change is one of the largest threats we face today, and greenhouse gas emissions are a major driver of this threat," said Paige Samblanet, law clerk at Earthjustice. "It only makes sense to create a regulation such as this that will turn our airport shuttle industry into a zero-emissions model."

It also will help clean the air in communities near airports, which often are home to lower-income communities, she said.

Will Barrett, director of clean air advocacy at the American Lung Association, said that more than 70 health groups this week issued a "call to action on climate health and equity." That letter sought a reduction in petroleum and natural gas use in the transportation sector, he said.

"Make sure that this proposal spurs that transition we need to zero-emissions technologies to protect public health from combustion emissions sources, especially in our most disadvantaged communities," Barrett said.

However, Lisa McGhee, operations manager at San Diego Airport Parking Co., said the kilowatt-hour price CARB was using to figure costs of the rule was off. Utility San Diego Gas & Electric Co.'s rate has trended 9% higher than those of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. or Southern California Edison Co., she said, adding that "operators in San Diego will face the burden of higher kilowatt costs when driving ZEVs."

Her business operates three ZEV shuttles out of seven total shuttles. The ZEV shuttles cost about $90,000 each, she said, while diesel-fueled ones cost $50,000.

A CARB economic analysis stipulated there are higher upfront costs for the shuttles and buses but said that costs are offset in about eight years due to lower operating costs. The rule will yield a cost savings of $30 million to airport shuttle operators from 2020 to 2040, it said, due to reduced fuel and maintenance costs.

That analysis factored in businesses being able to sell credits into the state's system requiring lower carbon fuels. That regulation requires fossil fuel producers — like oil companies — to submit environmental credits. Companies that produce clean fuels can earn credits.

A representative of the natural gas industry faulted parts of the rule, saying it should have looked at near-zero-emission options along with ZEVs.

"We do believe it's overly optimistic based on timeline and cost," said Ryan Kenny, senior public policy and regulatory affairs adviser at Clean Energy, a provider of renewable natural gas. "We are concerned that it does underestimate the potential public health and economic costs to society."

He added, "We also provide an immediate solution, where this may take some time to be implemented."

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at