California's Air Resources Board has recently approved a mandate to shift big rigs and other trucks to zero emissions in a bid to transform the state's economy and end diesel's long-standing dominance in goods movement.
It is the world’s first mandate to prohibit new diesel truck sales and demand a shift towards zero-emission big rigs, garbage trucks, delivery trucks, and other medium and heavy-duty vehicles. The regulations will significantly alter the commercial trucks that are used on California's roads, impacting approximately 1.8 million trucks, including those operated by the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx, UPS, and Amazon.
From 2036 onwards, no new medium-duty or heavy-duty trucks that run on fossil fuels will be sold in the state. Large trucking companies must also switch to electric or hydrogen models by 2042. The board will review progress and obstacles in meeting the deadlines 2.5 years from now.
If the federal government approves the ban, truck emissions in California would be applied the strictest regulations in the country, positioning California as a leading state pushing forward greenhouse gas emissions reduction.
Diesel engines have been the primary choice for transporting heavy goods over long distances in the U.S. since the 1950s. The move comes 25 years after California acknowledged diesel exhaust a dangerous, toxic contaminant as it contains over 40 chemicals linked to cancer. Although diesel engines have been getting cleaner for decades under the state’s earlier regulations, they remain a major contributor to air pollution and greenhouse gases.
California hopes the ban will generate health savings from reduced asthma attacks and respiratory illnesses caused by pollution.
California is the only state in the U.S. that is allowed under the 1970 Clean Air Act to set tighter air pollution rules than those set by the federal government, which, historically, often follows suit when California does so. The proposed ban on diesel truck sales would be a first in the world, but the federal government may adopt similar policies, which could influence global policies since trucks are produced and used worldwide.
Washington state will also prohibit the use of new diesel trucks beginning in 2036, according to a governor's spokesperson. "We are currently reviewing the actions taken by California, but we can confirm that the state intends to follow the process of adopting these standards," said spokesman Mike Faulk in an email. The Environmental Protection Agency establishes vehicle emission standards, but it has the option of adopting California's more stringent standards instead.
But trucking companies argue that electric models are more than twice as expensive as diesel trucks, take hours to charge, cannot travel the required range for transporting cargo, and lack a sufficient statewide network of charging stations.
Air board staff project that the costs of new electric trucks and other drawbacks will become less of a burden over time, as electric trucks become more common.
Electric trucks have high upfront costs, but lower maintenance and operational costs are expected to save fleet operators money in the long term. Fleet operations are expected to result in $48 billion in economic savings, according to the air board's calculations.
The air board estimated that the cost of purchasing and operating an electric semi-truck throughout its lifespan in 2035 would be between $765,000 and $1.1 million, whereas a gas or diesel truck would cost between $919,000 and $1.2 million. (These figures exclude state and federal subsidies provided for companies who purchase zero-emission vehicles.)