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California’s Zero-Emission Truck Regulation Marks the First Step Down the Long Road Toward Electric Trucking

Published onAug 25, 2020
California’s Zero-Emission Truck Regulation Marks the First Step Down the Long Road Toward Electric Trucking

Earlier this summer, California took a tremendous step toward cleaner air when the California Air Resources Board (“CARB”) passed the Advanced Clean Truck regulation (“ACT”). The purpose of ACT is to further California’s goal of improving air quality and reducing harmful emissions produced by heavy-duty diesel engines.

ACT sets a staggered, percentage-based quota for encouraging commercial trucking businesses to develop zero-emission fleets by the year 2045. The required percentages of zero-emission vehicles (“ZEV”) go into effect in 2024 and increase in 2035. By 2045 all commercial trucks in California must be ZEVs. While ACT will affect vehicles in Classes 2b-8, the required percentages of ZEVs vary among truck classes. Manufacturers that make and sell ZEVs before 2024 will receive credits that can be used toward meeting quotas in the following years.

While California’s ACT is the first state regulation to require businesses to introduce ZEVs to their trucking fleets, the introduction of electric vehicles has been gaining traction in the U.S. and abroad. California itself has already introduced a similar regulation aimed at zero-emission public bus fleets. Several local ZEV bus programs around the U.S. have also found success. Seneca, SC and Chicago, IL are two cities that have benefited from such programs. In addition, China has already made a large scale switch to electric vehicles. Finally, there are also several personal electric pickup truck and car alternatives on the horizon.

In the long run, switching commercial vehicles to ZEVs has many benefits for the environment and for businesses. First, ZEVs create no exhaust emissions, which reduces greenhouse gasses that create smog. In turn, the reduction of smog improves air quality. Reduced emissions and better air not only benefit the climate, but they also reduce health risks associated with polluted air. The switch will also save businesses money as the long-term costs of maintaining ZEVs are lower than those to maintain traditional heavy-duty diesel trucks. As energy efficiency continues to increase, the cost of maintaining electric vehicle fleets will continue to decrease. Thus, ZEV fleets will not only be more cost efficient than diesel fleets, they will continue to be increasingly cost efficient.

While the switch to zero-emission commercial fleets seems inevitable – and for good cause – the challenges of executing the switch make the timeline for achieving zero-emission fleets uncertain. Up-front expenses make switching to ZEV commercial fleets a complicated endeavor. Perhaps the most challenging obstacle to overcome in the switch to ZEV fleets is how to efficiently charge them. As with commercial buses, ZEV trucking fleets will require substantial space and energy to recharge. In addition, much logistical planning is required to develop a system for routing and charging trucks.

Fortunately, California’s approach to introducing ZEVs to its commercial fleets might relieve some of these problems. Funding and incentive programs will likely reduce the financial burden on businesses as they make the switch to ZEVs. The ACT will likely allow businesses to gradually implement the necessary charging stations and procedures and to work out the kinks along the way. With careful strategizing, California’s ACT has the potential to achieve large-scale success and to inspire the other 49 states to make the switch to ZEVs.


John M. Stevelinck, Jr. is a second-year law student at Wake Forest University School of Law. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Cognitive Science from the University of Michigan. Upon graduation, he intends to practice corporate law.

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