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A Volvo VNR Electric charges at the high-powered chargers available to fleets at TEC Equipment, Fontana. Image courtesy of Volvo Trucks

Air Quality

Clean Fleets Rule Slated To Deliver Healthier Air For Californians

In the coming years, Californians will begin to see a massive switch away from highly polluting fossil-fueled trucks to zero-emission electric trucks.

Why? Because last week, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) made history by unanimously adopting what is perhaps the most transformative clean trucks regulation ever considered — the Advanced Clean Fleets (ACF) rule. This rule creates the first-ever, economy-wide, zero-emission standard for large truck fleets. The rule will apply to commercial, federal, state, municipal, and drayage fleets. Additionally, the rule phases out the sale of fossil-fueled trucks in 2036.

Why Did California Create This Truck Rule?

Trucks and buses on California’s roads and highways are responsible for the majority of lung-damaging fine particulate and ozone-forming nitrogen oxide emissions, and a sizable amount of climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions as well. ACF is anticipated to accelerate the annual adoption of zero-emission trucks in California by around 80%, which will reduce exposure-related health complications from air pollution. Additionally, the rule will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s trucking fleet by nearly 330 million metric tons through 2050, roughly equivalent to taking 90 coal-fired power plants offline for an entire year.

Accelerating the adoption of zero-emission trucks will also provide huge economic benefits to fleets in California because of the savings from electric vehicles’ fuel and maintenance compared to that of combustion vehicles. Statewide, CARB estimates that fleets will save around $48 billion through 2050, even when considering costs related to installing charging infrastructure and retraining drivers and mechanics.

As we celebrate ACF as an important step in addressing our state’s dual public health and climate crises, we must also recognize that more work is needed to accomplish this transition to clean trucks and support their operation.

Unfortunately, smaller semi-truck fleets in the state were left out of ACF’s electrification strategies, despite operating some of the most polluting vehicles on our roads and producing more pollution fleet-wide than fleets of other vehicle types. CARB has recognized the need to focus on smaller semi-truck fleets and plans to address trucks unregulated by ACF through an upcoming Clean Trucks Measure, but this action is several years out. In the meantime, the state should consider additional strategies to influence small semi-truck fleets’ transition to zero-emission models, including expanded incentives and affordable loan programs.

Setting Up More EV Charging Infrastructure Will Be Critical

The most vital part of planning and successfully executing the wide-scale deployment of clean trucks and buses in California is charging infrastructure. The California Energy Commission estimates that 157,000 chargers need to be installed by 2030 to support California’s heavy-duty vehicle electrification goals. UCS anticipates the vast majority of the chargers needed will be lower-powered chargers installed at truck depots for overnight charging. Both the state and federal governments have committed billions of dollars to spur this work.

Last November, the California Energy Commission approved $1.7 billion for medium- and heavy-duty truck charging as part of the $2.9 billion Clean Transportation Investment Plan Update, and as of December 2022, the Public Utilities Commission approved nearly $800 million dollars in utility programs for medium- and heavy-duty charging infrastructure. At the federal level, the Inflation Reduction Act allows for a tax credit of up to $100,000 per commercial charger.

However, there is much to be done to coordinate and scale up planning for and deployment of charging projects to meet the appropriately ambitious timeline for truck electrification. That is particularly true for public-facing fast chargers for long-haul trucks, similar to the fueling stations we see at truck stops today. Efforts are ongoing, and I and the UCS team are excited to continue pushing for more action on infrastructure as the ACF is implemented.

Now that we have a clean trucks sales standard, generous purchase incentives, and a clean fleets standard in ACF, we must focus on accelerating the deployment of charging infrastructure powered by renewable energy and programs tailored to the specific needs of small tractor fleets.

I am excited to continue working with organizations in California to achieve a future where zero-emissions trucks are the norm, a society where all people have equal access to clean air, and a stable climate that supports a healthy society and robust biodiversity in nature.

Originally published by Union of Concerned Scientists, The Equation. By Sam Wilson

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