CLIMATEWIRE | California is accelerating its push to phase out fossil-fuel-powered vehicles, targeting both heavy-duty truck fleets delivering packages and most trains operating in the state.

The California Air Resources Board next week is likely to approve final regulations affecting both sectors. Potential repercussions extend beyond the nation’s most populous state.

Multiple states already follow another California clean truck regulation. Many of those states potentially would adopt the fleet rule if it’s passed. And the push to make clean locomotives for the state — the world’s fifth-largest economy — could provide a boost to green train manufacturing.

“The way to move freight is either trucks or by rail, and so you've got both being regulated here,” said Ethan Elkind, director of the climate program at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. It’s “a major deal for the country because you've got so many goods coming in” through ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach and “from there being distributed throughout essentially the western United States.”

A vote on both regulations comes as California seeks to meet some of the country’s most ambitious mandates to fight climate change. It needs to cut greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 85 percent below by 2045.

The rules are aimed at cutting the greenhouse gases that worsen climate change and the traditional air pollutants blamed for health problems. The latter is a priority for the state because many residents of color and those with lower incomes live near ports and rail yards.

“California is really riddled with really terrible air pollution burdens, and a lot of it does come from the goods movement sector,” said Yasmine Agelidis, attorney at Earthjustice. “And within that category, trucks and trains are two of the biggest problem areas in terms of their pollution.”

The state has a unique ability to pass transportation regulations stronger than the federal ones, because California has battled some of the worst air pollution in the country. The Obama and Biden administrations have granted the state waivers under the Clean Air Act.

Biden’s EPA just issued a waiver allowing California to implement its groundbreaking clean trucks rule passed in 2020. That one requires manufacturers to sell an increasing percentage of zero-emission trucks in the state starting next year (Greenwire, March 31).

Proposed fleet rule applies widely

The proposed Advanced Clean Truck Fleet rule up for a vote April 27 or April 28 is aimed at creating a market to buy those trucks.

It would apply to everything from small delivery trucks that bring packages to homes to the largest trucks that haul shipments from other states. It would target private and public truck fleets operated by companies with at least $50 million in revenue or that control more than 50 trucks. All newly purchased trucks — or an increasing percentage of their existing fleet — would need to be zero-emission vehicles (Climatewire, Oct. 28, 2022).

The proposal has several provisions, but one of the most significant is that it would require sales of most new big trucks in the state to have zero emissions in 2036. That’s four years sooner than in a draft version of the rule offered last year.

“Drayage” big rig trucks — which commonly operate at ports and rail yards — would need to clean up even faster; they would all have to be ZEVs by 2035.

If it’s approved, California “will be the first government that I'm aware of that has established a 100 percent sales requirement … for zero-emission trucks that's enforceable,” said Ray Minjares, Heavy-Duty Vehicles Program director at the International Council on Clean Transportation. “Establishing such a requirement by 2036 will be the soonest of any government in the world.”

Critics question whether the truck regulation is feasible, however. The proposed truck fleet rule would require the use of vehicles and charging infrastructure that do not exist, said Chris Shimoda, California Trucking Association senior vice president, government affairs.

“Public charging is needed on a massive scale, it does not exist, and the rule has no concessions for fleets who won’t or can’t install their own infrastructure,” Shimoda wrote in an email. “Neither the vehicle technology or infrastructure is at the maturity to support the proposed timeline and scope.”

Even supporters of the rule concede there’s a gap between what’s needed on infrastructure and state efforts to achieve it. The California Air Resources Board has no authority to approve development of charging infrastructure. That’s up to the California Public Utilities Commission, and it hasn’t pushed utilities to prioritize getting the infrastructure constructed, several experts said.

“When you're a professional truck driver, you're going 150, 200 miles a day or more. … You have to be able to fully charge it overnight, which probably means a higher-power charger,” said Elkind at UC Berkeley law school. “So that's a big infrastructure lift. We need not only the hardware deployed, but we need the power supply there.”

Proposed train rule targets purchases

The proposed train rule would require that locomotive companies buy increasing numbers of zero-emission vehicles.

Starting in 2030, new locomotives — for passenger, rail yard and industrial operations — would have to operate in zero-emission mode while in California. That requirement would be triggered in 2035 for line-haul locomotives that power bigger trains.

The proposed rule also would require companies starting in 2024 to pay into an account annually based on prior year emissions of particulate matter and nitrogen oxides. Through 2030, businesses then could use money from that account to purchase, lease or rent the cleanest locomotives or to repower engines to make them equal to the cleanest ones. Funds also could be used to purchase zero-emission infrastructure or fund demonstration projects.

The proposed final rule added another compliance option that wasn’t in an earlier draft released last year. That came partly in response to complaints from companies such as Metrolink — a Southern California commuter rail service — which said the draft regulation failed to recognize how much they’d already invested in cleaner trains.

Under the new option, rail companies instead of paying into an account could choose starting in 2030 to make at least half their fleet usage “tier four” or cleaner. Those are engines that can reduce particulate matter and nitrogen oxides emissions up to 85 percent compared to earlier models.

Additionally, beginning in 2042, half of their yearly fleet usage in California must be with zero-emissions vehicles, and by 2047, all of their annual fleet usage in California must be zero-emissions.

“These provisions will accelerate the deployment of zero-emission locomotives without undermining passenger rail service in the state,” Darren Kettle, Metrolink CEO, wrote in a March 15 letter to CARB. He said the company could support the proposed regulation as modified.

Kettle added that state incentives to help clean trains are needed. Healthy markets for hybrid and zero-emissions buses and personal vehicles exist in part because of decades of federal and state investments, he said.

“Rail will require similar time and incentive pilot funding,” Kettle wrote. “Ultimately, the funding that will be required to implement this regulation will likely reach into the billions of dollars.”

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2023. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals.