For several weeks, the Environmental Justice League has focused on the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB’s) pending Advanced Clean Fleets Rule and specifically its anticipated impact on disadvantaged and most vulnerable communities if it were implemented as currently written. Among its various deficiencies, EJL has identified in the draft regulations a provision that could likely result in a “default to diesel” outcome in the event sufficient electric vehicles (EVs) are not commercially available for purchase when truck fleet operators are required to replace their aging trucks to meet the “all Zero Emissions vehicles by 2045” standard established by the Governor.
In essence, CARB contemplates granting truck fleet operators extensions that allow them to either continue operating existing diesel trucks, or to purchase “new diesel” or other internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles until such time as electric vehicles become commercially available. These newly purchased vehicles will be required to meet a “California Certified” standard, which establishes a maximum allowable nitrous oxide emissions standard. This standard allows a variety of different engines and emissions levels, which are valid for a single operator so long as that operator’s newly purchased vehicles collectively meet a particular average emissions standard. It follows that some of their vehicles can fall below that standard, yet still be in compliance with state requirements.
The challenge, from an environmental and emissions standpoint, is that the vehicles purchased under this standard will not necessarily represent the best commercially available engine technology in terms of emissions reduction in the short term. In real-world terms, this means that communities living in proximity to ports, major highways and refineries will very likely continue to breathe diesel emissions over the next decade or longer. Why? Because operators that are granted an exemption could purchase and
operate diesel trucks when they are unable to buy electric trucks, which can be the cheaper option even though cleaner internal combustion engine options are available. Although fleet operators will also be allowed to purchase other types of internal combustion vehicles, from a purely economic standpoint the incentive to continue to purchase diesel trucks as long as it is legal will be very strong.
This matters because the communities living in proximity to ports, major highways and refineries are disproportionately Black and Brown. They will continue to breathe diesel fumes, which are among the most harmful emissions, and have been linked to high rates of asthma and cancer in the affected communities. But for how long? Under the CARB regulations implementing the Advanced Clean Fleets rule as currently drafted, the answer is, until such time as electric heavy trucks are commercially available on a wide-spread basis – which could take years. This is why the Environmental Justice League has been emphasizing the negative health implications for disproportionately African-American and Latino communities of a failure to impose a cleanest available technology standard with regard to the purchase of vehicles between now and the time all-electric truck fleets become a reality.
Let us be clear: The Environmental Justice League fully supports the established state goal of electrification and the transition of the transportation industry to electric vehicles (EVs), along with the rest of the environmental community. However, we would be derelict in our responsbility to the communities we represent if we were to ignore the fact that the window of time required to achieve the state goal of electrification is so long, and the negative health impacts on our communities in the interim so significant, that it makes logical sense from a public health standpoint to explore other pathways to reduce harmful emissions in the short term. A clear method of achieving this objective is within easy reach, if the State of California, through CARB, will adopt a cleanest available technology requirement with respect to the vehicles purchased by truck fleet operators, if and when electric vehicles are not commercially available when needed.
CARB maintains that EJL’s concern has already been addressed in the form of the California Certified standard for the engines in any newly purchased vehicles beginning in 2024. To put it diplomatically, that stance is a misrepresentation of what the California Certified standard actually requires. The range of engines and emission levels it allows cannot be said to represent the cleanest available engine technology, since some of them fall below that standard.
EJL has gathered together a broad group of stakeholders (NAACP, the California Black Health Network, the International Faith-Based Coalition) from multiple regions across the state (Oakland, Fresno, L.A./Long Beach, San Diego and Sacramento) to call for CARB to instead direct truck fleet operators, when granting an exemption, to buy trucks representing the cleanest commercially available engine technology, whether it be hydrogen fuel cell, renewable natural gas, or some other technology that will result in short-term and significant emissions reductions in the communities that have the highest exposure to harmful particulate matter. This would be a sound and reasonable public health measure, as the State of California implements its pathway to zero emissions by 2045.
This is critical to the disadvantaged communities, which are disproportionately communities of color that have had their long-term health damaged by breathing in harmful emissions for so long. A clear method of achieving this objective is within easy reach, if the State of California, through CARB, will adopt a cleanest available technology requirement with respect to the vehicles purchased by truck fleet operators, if and when electric vehicles are not commercially available when needed.