California to phase out diesel truck use in bid for cleaner air

California will require nearly half of all heavy truck sales to be electric by 2035 as the state aims to cut emissions.

Trucks wait in a queue to cross into the United States from the city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, to El Paso, Texas.
Transportation accounts for about 40 percent of California's greenhouse emissions [File: Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters]

The administration of United States President Joe Biden has approved a plan for California to gradually phase out the use of carbon-emitting heavy trucks, as the state makes a push to cut emissions and improve air quality.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday that it would clear the way for California to require nearly half of all heavy truck sales to be electric by 2035, gradually phasing out large trucks that rely on diesel.

“We’re leading the charge to get dirty trucks and buses — the most polluting vehicles — off our streets, and other states and countries are lining up to follow our lead,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement.

The decision will allow California to move forward with one of the most ambitious efforts by a US state to slash emissions in the carbon-intensive transportation sector, which accounts for about 40 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions.

California, which has the largest economy of any US state, has a history of pushing for stronger emissions rules. Newsom said that he hoped the state’s plan would have a cascading effect, encouraging other states to follow through with similar initiatives of their own.

According to The Associated Press, Newsom’s office said that eight other states have signalled their intention to adopt similar measures. In August, California joined 15 other states, plus the District of Columbia, in signing a letter urging the EPA to approve California’s truck standards.

Newsom has also approved a ban on the sale of new cars exclusively reliant on petrol by 2035, a rule that is still being considered for approval by the EPA.

A group of 17 Republican attorneys general have filed legal challenges against California’s ability to enact pollution standards that are stronger than those in place at the federal level, and the dispute could make its way to the US Supreme Court.

The rules approved on Friday will focus on companies that build trucks, as well as those that use a large number of them for business operations.

Companies with fleets of 50 or more trucks will be required to share information about their use with the state. For manufacturers, zero-emission trucks will have to comprise between 40 and 75 percent of sales, depending on the class of vehicle, by 2035.

Industry groups have pushed back against such efforts, stating that they will impose cumbersome regulations on the industry and heap additional burdens on businesses that rely on trucking.

Environmental and social justice groups, however, have welcomed the announcement, stating that it will help cut harmful pollutants in parts of the state, especially in low-income communities with high levels of trucking activity.

“The burdens of freight transportation are falling disproportionately on low-income communities of colour who have to breath air polluted by these diesel trucks in areas like ports or distribution centres where there is a lot of activity,” Bill Magavern, a spokesperson for the Coalition for Clean Air, told Al Jazeera in a phone call.

He added, “Transportation is biggest source of air pollution in the state.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies