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California Bill Aims to Ditch 'Dirty Diesel'

Legislation would require medium- and heavy-duty trucks to meet stiff emission goals
Photograph: Shutterstock

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A new bill would effectively phase out diesel-powered medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses in California to shift toward zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) and alternative fuels.

State Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley, Calif.) has introduced Senate Bill 44, which is also known as “Ditching Dirty Diesel.” It would require the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to develop a comprehensive strategy by January 2021 for medium- and heavy-duty trucks that would bring California into compliance with federal air-quality standards and to meet greenhouse-gas reduction goals of 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050.

“Tailpipe pollution not only damages our health, it’s a major source of greenhouse gas emissions,” Skinner said. “And the exhaust from diesel trucks in particular presents a pressing health crisis for families and children living near ports and trucking routes, such as West Oakland and Richmond.”

According to Skinner, diesel-powered vehicles create one-third of smog-forming emissions in the state and more particulate matter than all of California’s fossil-fueled power plants combined. She cited a 2018 report by the American Lung Association that found that seven of the 10 most polluted areas in the country for particle pollution are in California.

“It’s no secret that medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses are significant sources of lung-damaging particulate matter,” Skinner said. “But what is less known is that diesel-fueled trucks and buses produce nearly one-quarter of [greenhouse gas] emissions from California’s transportation sector.”

Some members of the trucking industry have pushed back against the proposed bill, arguing it is unrealistic.

In comments to The San Francisco Examiner, Jim Buell, general manager of Fairfield, Calif.-based North Bay Truck Center, said that diesel engines are more powerful, last longer and get better fuel economy than gasoline-powered engines.

“I don’t think the technology has come far enough to phase out diesel, so I don’t see how it’s possible,” said Buell. “It would be a big strain on the industry, and it would absolutely affect our business. Every truck I’m looking at in my yard now is diesel.”

SB 44 would reserve a portion of California’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund each year until 2025 to support the transition to “clean” medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.

“We need to continue to send strong policy signals and financial incentives to spur the transition away from dirty diesel,” Skinner said. “SB 44 is technology-neutral, supporting all clean vehicle technologies. But the truth is we must transition to ZEVs to have a real shot at eliminating air pollution and halting climate change.”

ZEV alternatives to diesel-powered trucks could include Tesla’s upcoming Semi battery electric-powered truck, which it plans to begin producing in 2020. It would offer a range of 500 miles and the ability to accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in 20 seconds while hauling 80,000 pounds of cargo, according to Tesla. Companies such as Anheuser-Busch, PepsiCo and Walmart have been placing reservations for the Tesla Semi, which ranges in cost from $150,000 to $200,000, Business Insider reported. Making a reservation requires a $20,000 to $200,000 down payment, depending on the version of the truck.

Another ZEV alternative could be fuel cell-powered trucks, such as Nikola Motor Co.’s upcoming hydrogen-powered semis. Some argue that fuel cell-powered trucks would be superior to electric in both range and towing capacity. Nikola plans to begin delivering the trucks in 2020. The company also recently announced plans to offer two of its truck models in battery electric versions.

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