Clean up big vehicles for a healthier California: Opinion

Source: LA Daily News

If California is going to meet clean air and climate goals, we have to tackle pollution from the transportation sector. State emission reduction programs like AB 32 have an important role to play, but there is also a need for targeted investment and incentives. This is especially true for heavy-duty diesel vehicles such as trucks, buses and off-road equipment.
People living along major freeways and freight corridors such as the 710 Freeway will understand why. The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles receive 40 percent of the goods shipped to our country, and most of these goods are loaded by large machinery onto big rigs that stream onto clogged roadways. It’s no wonder the American Lung Association has found our region to suffer from some of the worst air pollution in the country.
Though we have done a very good job of taking the dirtiest old trucks off the road, attempts to find long-term technology solutions have been scattered and insufficient. Cleaning up this sector will require a focused and coordinated effort.
That’s where Senate Bill 1204 comes in. It would create the California Clean Truck, Bus, and Off-Road Technology Program to coordinate and help fund efforts to cut pollution and emissions from heavy-duty vehicles. The goal: a move toward zero- and near-zero-emission vehicles. The focus would be on highly polluted, disadvantaged areas that need the help the most — including areas such as the I-710 corridor and San Joaquin Valley.
These trucks, buses and off-road equipment are critical to California’s economy. We need them. The problem is that they consume 20 percent of the fuel used in our state’s fleets, and are responsible for a disproportionate share of soot and smog-forming emissions. With the California Energy Commission predicting a 42 percent increase in the use of diesel fuel by 2030, the sector’s share of greenhouse gas pollution is on track to grow even bigger.
But a strategic, coordinated effort to incentivize clean, innovative alternatives can turn things around. The possibilities are very exciting. California companies are already working on zero-emission trucks to carry goods to and from the ports. Advanced technology big-rig trucks running on alternative fuels could dramatically reduce emissions in the inland valleys while also reducing fuel bills for truckers. And we are already seeing small numbers of zero-emission buses in our communities.
Almost 90 percent of Californians live in counties with unhealthy air. Cleaning up the heavy-duty vehicles and equipment involved in moving goods and people through our state would make a real difference in air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. It would cut health costs and improve our quality of life. And it would spur innovation and investment in cleaner technology, creating jobs and economic growth.
SB 1204 has attracted wide bipartisan backing. It has the support of heavy-duty vehicle manufacturers and suppliers, along with transit agencies and businesses like UPS that depend on these heavy-duty vehicles. Industry groups, environmental organizations and public health groups are lined up behind it.
Just as California has long been a leader in cleaner passenger vehicles, we can lead the pack on medium- and heavy-duty vehicles as well. We need to stay the course on clean-air policies, and we also need targeted investment and innovation. SB 1204 can set us on the road to a cleaner and more prosperous future.
John Boesel is president and CEO of CALSTART, a Pasadena-based nonprofit working to accelerate the growth of the clean transportation technology industry. Barry R. Wallerstein is the executive officer of the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Senate Bill 1204 is authored by Sens. Ricardo Lara, D-Long Beach, and Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills.