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The Latest California Clean Air Regulations For Trucking Companies

Any trucker or fleet owner will tell you that there is one state that drives the market more than any other: California. As one of the world’s largest economies – let alone the nation’s – what California decides carries weight.

And since many trucking companies must at least send deliveries or make pickups in California – even if they aren’t headquartered there – they must comply with California rules and regulations. Some say California’s regulations are quite steep.

No matter how you feel, one thing is clear, California is at it again. This past summer, the California Legislature passed a series of bills designed to reduce air pollution emitted by vehicles and provide further incentives to cut greenhouse gas emissions. But what will this mean in practice? Let’s dig deeper into the meat of the legislation.

By the Numbers

Looking at the full total, California’s new package will set $250 million aside for the Carl Moyer Program, which provides grant funding for cleaner-than-required engines and equipment. Under the Carl Moyer Program, local air districts can allocate the funds under local guidelines.

Under this program, eligible projects include more fuel efficient and cleaner on-road trucks, school and transit buses, off-road equipment, marine equipment, trains, farm equipment and vehicles, light duty vehicles and much, much more. California aims to use the program to fast track their clean air efforts.

Another $180 million will be set aside for the Clean Bus and Truck Program. This program aims to help underwrite motor carriers who opt to switch to low-NOx natural gas engines. Of course, as we have discussed in previous articles, fleet application is key.

The final number, $140 million, will be put towards incentivizing California ports to switch to cleaner vehicles and equipment. To raise the funding necessary, California will auction off carbon allowances.  Yet, the action doesn’t stop there.

Shortly after this article gets published, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will vote on their own Clean Air Action Plan. This is no small matter considering these are the two busiest ports in the country. What they do, others often follow. How will they set the standard?

If you go by the California Sustainable Freight Action Plan, the trucking industry contributes quite a large amount of the state’s emissions. Their numbers state that a full third of the states NOx emissions and a quarter of diesel particulate matter come directly from heavy duty commercial vehicles.

How It Is Written

With the final version being written up by the state and industry stakeholders, expect a moderated approach. After all, the trucking industry can be quite effective at isolating inefficiencies and funding issues. They are also the decision-makers when it comes to converting a fleet from standard diesel to another form of energy.

The best part about this piece of legislation was the process. According to a representative of the Harbor Trucking Association, “This time around, the process was much more inclusive, and thus, got a lot more input from stakeholders, such as the trucking community, on what works and what doesn’t work. I think that because of that, the Clean Air Action Plan will be one that is stronger in the sense that, for the trucking industry, I don’t think it will be as financially burdensome.”

Still, this doesn’t mean everyone is on the same page, which is not all too uncommon when it comes to issues facing the trucking industry. The governmental affairs director for the Western States Trucking Association believes that these new rules may put undue pressure on trucking companies to replace units. Not only is this a major cost burden if the current vehicles are still workable, but they may be being asked to switch to untested equipment.

Some say that the technology being pushed on the industry is more aspirational than work-ready. First, ports and players will need to look at the feasibility of implementing a major equipment and vehicle overhaul. Such things take time.

Of course, the trucking industry and involved stakeholders must be a part of the planning and implementation of such a change. Again, the Harbor Trucking Association representative.

“If technology doesn’t exist or it’s not commercially viable or it’s just not affordable, we need to be able to pivot, delay things, or move in different directions,” he said.

California’s Carefully Laid Plans

California has a habit of shooting for the moon when it comes to initiatives like this. A lot has been promised in this package, including a promise of jobs generating green technology and economic growth. But will this promise come to fruition? What happened in the American solar panel industry is one such example of a green promise unfulfilled.

Another concern comes from businesses who worry that these changes may impact their bottom line or make it difficult for them to operate in the state. Would business move elsewhere simply because of new clean air regulations on big rigs? Until these changes go into effect, the jury is still out on that question.

The last thing California wants is to shoot itself in the foot by making it overly expensive for businesses to operate or import or export out of one of California’s ports. Companies can just as easily take their business to Seattle, Canada or Mexico and avoid the headache, thus depriving California of a much-needed revenue stream.

What Do the Ports Have in Mind?

With the California Air Resources Board (CARB) hard at work setting up new standards for release, both parts are preparing their own plan, as we mentioned before. So, we thought now would be a good time to dig into the details of such a plan and how those details may impact the trucking industry.

First, one thing that immediately becomes clear is how ambitious this plan is. Considering this is coming from the ports themselves, rather than CARB, it serves as an example to how committed industry has become in their efforts to lower emissions.

Right off the bat, the plan makes clear that they want to transition to a zero-emission drayage fleet by 2035. In addition, the draft sets specific goals on where the ports should be depending on the emission type. Their goals are:

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050
  • Reduce diesel particulate matter by 77% below 2005 levels by 2023
  • Reduce sulfur oxides by 93% below 2005 levels by 2023
  • Reduce nitrogen oxides below 2005 levels by 2023

As you can see, this is an ambitious plan. A preliminary cost analysis came up with an eye-watering price tag of anywhere from $7 billion to $14 billion.

The good news is that recent tests show the ports have already surpassed their particulate matter and sulfur oxide targets and are getting close to the NOx goal. That represents excellent dedication considering they could easily take their time and wait for the deadline to take any action.

According to Gene Sorka, Executive Director of the Port of Los Angeles, “These ports are going where no port has gone before. Based on what we’ve already accomplished to promote healthy, robust trade through our gateway, we’re ready to make history again, looking at a new array of technologies and strategies to further lower port-related emissions in the decades ahead.”

Everything Takes Time

As with almost everything else, this entire process has taken a lot of time to get to this point. The 2017 draft document was comprised from feedback gathered over two years. During that time, the state, local governments and ports have been hard at work finding common ground.

Discussions have taken place with advocacy groups, environmental groups, regulatory agencies and local communities. The ports themselves set up question-and-answer sessions and public workshops asking for goal, strategy, priority and timeline ideas. A time for public review and comment has also been included.

Overall, the ports have hosted over 50 meetings and workshops leading up to the changes. According to Mario Cordero, the Executive Director of the Port of Long Beach, “Working closely with all our partners has been crucial to our success. That same collaboration went into the development of the 2017 CAAP and will be indispensable going forward.

He went on to add that, “Since 2006, the Clean Air Action Plan has been a model for programs to reduce health risks and air quality impacts from port operations worldwide. We remain committed to being leaders in seaport sustainability.”

Of course, there are still many questions left unanswered regarding what will be in the final package. Fortunately, California and the stakeholders involved have conducted a thorough and transparent process, taking quite some time to try and get it right.

Reaching zero emissions is a lofty goal, one that many say may not be attainable. Yet, one can never do anything big without shooting for the stars and taking big risks. Will California and her ports can complete this complex transition to zero emission vehicles by the dates they themselves have lined out? We’ll be right there reporting on it once it becomes clear.

For full details on what is in the new legislation, simply click or tap here.

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