The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has ordered the state’s bus agencies to switch to entirely emissions-free vehicles within 20 years, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Sunday, as part of a larger overall push to push back against Republicans’ efforts on the national front to undermine state emissions regulations.
The policy is the first of its kind in the country and was approved by a unanimous vote on Dec. 14th. Per the Chronicle, the initiative would “prohibit the purchase of any new gas- or diesel-powered public transit buses by 2029 and require all buses to be emission-free by 2040. It is the first policy in the country to require electrification of a state’s entire public transit fleet.”
Under the new rules, the Chronicle wrote, the emissions-free buses would replace an estimated 14,000 gas-fueled buses currently on California roads over the next two decades, reducing carbon emissions by an estimated one million metric tons by 2040. That amount of time is likely to be necessary for state agencies and zero-emissions vehicle manufacturers to build and put into operation enough vehicles, the paper added, though with a roughly 12-year lifespan for the current ones there is still likely to be future generations of fossil fuel-guzzling buses on the road.
According to Ars Technica, CARB said in a statement that transportation accounts for 40 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, as well as 80 to 90 percent of its harmful smog. Plans are already in the works at various agencies to commission 1,000 emissions-free buses by 2020, CARB added, up from 153 now. Technologies likely to be used include battery-electric and fuel cell vehicles, the board said, and it expects the transition to actually save $1.5 billion “in maintenance, fuel, and other costs by 2050 after the full buildout of infrastructure.”
Under the plan, Ars Technica wrote, large transportation agencies will have until 2020 to formulate a plan to meet the target, while smaller ones will have until 2030. Obstacles include infrastructural expansion, training, and for battery-powered buses that need to recharge, “different planning in terms of route structure and length than routes served by fossil fuel-powered vehicles.”
In September, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation requiring the entire state run on clean power by 2045—though the bill did not lay out a specific roadmap for achieving that goal and was instead mainly intended to demonstrate there is a massive market for clean power generation throughout the state. As Smithsonian Magazine noted, that plan ran into resistance from the energy industry and faces a formidable challenge in eliminating large natural-gas plants that help supply the state’s power grids when renewables are offline. (Other mandates, like a solar panel requirement for all new buildings that could fall disproportionately on the shoulders of the state’s poor, have been somewhat more controversial for other reasons.)
Donald Trump’s administration has moved to weaken Barack Obama-era fuel standards nationally and has proposed revoking a waiver that allows CARB to set stricter vehicle emissions targets than the Environmental Protection Agency. Both of those issues have set off a wave of legal and political battles that have yet to be resolved.
According to the Palm Springs Desert Sun, Earthjustice attorney Adrian Martinez said that Trump and his Republican allies in government would have little ability to interfere with the zero-emissions bus rule.
“This is strictly a purchasing decision,” he told the paper. “In fact, the U.S. Department of Transportation is providing millions to cities and towns across the U.S. for near zero or zero energy already. That will help with the transition here too.”
“The benefits of this decision go beyond addressing climate change and reducing air pollutants,” Union of Concerned Scientists senior vehicles analyst Jimmy O’Dea told the Chronicle. He added it “sends a strong market signal to manufacturers around the world. California must keep leading the way on reducing transportation-related carbon emissions that contribute to global warming, because every fraction of a degree of warming we avoid matters.”
As Fast Company noted, California’s plan is actually more modest than some other overseas efforts, like the Chinese city of Shenzen’s plan to replace all 16,000 of its buses with electric vehicles by the end of 2018.