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California legislators ask governor not to ignore fuel-cell tech for trucks

Nov. 13, 2020
In a letter to Gov. Newsom and state emissions regulators, legislators urge the state to take a ‘technology-neutral’ stance on its march toward zero-emissions technology for the trucking industry.

California state legislators are urging the state’s governor and regulators to take a “technology-neutral” approach in the Golden State’s push for zero-emission vehicles, particularly in medium- and heavy-duty trucks, where fuel-cell-powered vehicles could be a better solution than battery-electric.

In a September executive order, Gov. Gavin Newsom limited new passenger vehicle sales to only zero-emission by 2035 and additional measures to eliminate carbon emissions from the transportation sector. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is developing regulations to mandate that all operations of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles be 100% zero-emission by 2045 “where feasible,” with the mandate going into effect by 2035 for drayage trucks.

The transportation sector is responsible for more than half of all of California’s carbon pollution, 80% of smog-forming pollution, and 95% of toxic diesel emissions, according to the governor’s office.

“We stand deeply concerned about the impacts of medium- and heavy-duty trucks, buses, vessels, locomotives and off-road equipment on our local air quality and greenhouse gas emissions,” nine Democrat California state senators and assemblymen wrote in a Nov. 10 letter to the governor, CARB and the California Energy Commission. “These sectors are particularly difficult to convert to zero-emission and are especially well-suited for hydrogen fuel cell technology. Many in the scientific community believe that hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles are the only feasible approach to achieving zero emissions in these heavy-duty and commercial sector applications.” 

The legislators contend that California is making a disproportionate focus on battery-electric vehicle technology through the state’s many funding programs administered by CARB and the CEC. “We have observed that hydrogen fuel cell electric mobility solutions have been largely deprioritized compared to battery-based vehicles,” they wrote. “But, that single technology (battery electric) will not get us there alone and fuel cell electric vehicles will need to be a significant part of our zero-emission portfolio, particularly in the heavy-duty and commercial sectors.”  

The Western States Hydrogen Alliance (WSHA) — a nonprofit industry organization focused on fuel cell electric vehicle development for heavy-duty and commercial operations throughout the Western U.S. — praised the legislators’ call to action.  

“The tide is beginning to turn both in the marketplace and the Statehouse. End-users are calling for increased investment in fuel cell electric vehicles,” said Roxana Bekemohammadi, the WSHA executive director. “Our electrical grid remains increasingly unreliable. Wildfires and public safety power shutoffs continue to exacerbate that problem. And yet, some of our state’s top regulatory officials, who control hundreds of millions in zero-emission investment dollars, continue the wholly irresponsible practice of allowing their personal bias for one technology to drive agency decision-making while the accepted science so clearly shows that both technologies are critical in achieving their own stated goals.” 

CARB has noted that many California neighborhoods — particularly those of minorities and low-income residents — are near ports, railyards, distributions centers and other freight corridors that see the most truck traffic. Bekemohammadi warned that these communities in “diesel death zones” will be hurt the most if the state does not focus on fuel-cell technology over battery-electric as a replacement for diesel-powered heavy-duty trucks. 

Back in June, CARB adopted the first-in-the-nation new clean-truck standard. The regulations’ initial focus is on larger fleets with vehicles suitable for early electrification, those fleets’ subhaulers, and the large companies that hire them. It will limit how many diesel-powered vehicles manufacturers can sell in California starting in 2024. Those limitations will increase until 2045, when all new Class 2 to Class 8 vehicles sold in the Golden State must be zero-emission. The governor’s September executive order backed up CARB’s push for clean trucks.

The nine legislators who signed the November letter to Newsom called on the governor to include hydrogen fuel-cell technology in all administrative and agency efforts to achieve the goals outlined in his recent executive order.

“We simply ask that… you support us, the undersigned members of your Legislature, as we seek to enact legislative policies that will help to facilitate the successful, technology-neutral implementation of Executive Order N-79-20,” they wrote. 

A 2019 bill authored by state Sen. Bob Archuleta — who is among the nine legislators who signed the letter to the governor — aimed to allow California’s gas utilities to invest in hydrogen infrastructure for the trucking industry. That bill stalled when the COVID-19 pandemic hit during the middle of the California legislative session. Bekemohammadi said she expects to see similar legislation proposed during the next session. 

California isn’t alone in the push for ZEV adoption. The governors of 15 states, as well as the mayor of Washington D.C., recently agreed to a pact called the Multi-State Medium- and Heavy-Duty Zero-Emission Vehicle Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which calls for only new medium- and heavy-duty zero-emission trucks and buses to be sold in their jurisdiction by 2050. They set a 30% goal of zero-emission commercial vehicles by 2030, which will be reassessed in 2025 as new data comes in.

The MOU was signed by the governors of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, as well as the mayor of Washington, D.C.

About the Author

Josh Fisher | Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief Josh Fisher has been with FleetOwner since 2017, covering everything from modern fleet management to operational efficiency, artificial intelligence, autonomous trucking, regulations, and emerging transportation technology. He is based in Maryland. 

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