By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Perhaps Tesla’s Elon Musk is on to something. California is contemplating becoming the first locale in the world to mandate zero-emissions trucks by decree. The state’s controversial California Air Resources Board (CARB) took testimony last week on a proposal that would rewrite emission standards, and says it will vote on the proposal next year. What’s at stake?
In CARB’s vision, by 2030 – just a decade away – the state would see 74,000 zero-emissions trucks plying the Golden State roadways. That’s just 4 percent of the one-and-a-half-million medium- and heavy-duty trucks smoking down the highways today. Hit the hardest would be big trucks, like semi trucks and box trucks. Under the plan, half of all new big rigs would have to be zero-emitters by 2030. Pickup trucks and full-sized vans would need to meet standards by the same year, but only 15 percent of all sales would need to be zero emissions. By 2040, CARB wants to see ALL trucks sold to be zero-emitters.
It’s a tall order. Will battery technology be in a position to make it practical for all-electric propulsion? If it is, will there be a large enough, fast enough charging system network in place? And what about in those backwoods areas, say in the Sierras, where fifth wheel and travel trailer owners would head to with their rigs? It’s not clear how much CARB has taken that into the equation, but they are fired up with health improvements. If true, there is something to be said for the saving of 600 lives that CARB says are taken prematurely by air pollution attributed to vehicle emissions.
The proposal is getting a mixed review. Many environmental groups support the idea, but complain that the mandate isn’t fast enough or big enough. On the other side, an engine manufacturing industry representative, Jed Mandel, reminds the board that for business owners, a truck is a significant investment that needs to return a profit. He aptly points out that zero-emissions engines simply cost more than conventional combustion engines.
Given a historical perspective of CARB mandates, it’s likely this new plan will fly. Like it or not, Californians will see a future where “fill ‘er up” will mean something other than gas or diesel.