The California Air Resources Board (CARB) dreams of a world where all trucks, whether based in California or not, will be zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) by the year 2036. To achieve that goal, CARB adopted the Advanced Clean Fleets (ACF) regulation in April 2023. CARB hoped to take steps toward that goal this year, with only ZEV drayage trucks allowed to register with CARB as of Jan. 1 and ZEV purchase mandates on “high priority” fleets and fleets operated by government entities. Requirements escalate in future years for all truck operators.

However, one problem is interrupting dreams of a carbon free future: reality. CARB created emission standards even stricter than those established in the federal Clean Air Act. To proceed with its ACF regulation, CARB must first obtain a waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). On Dec. 28, 2023, CARB acknowledged that requirement and issued a public notice that it would not enforce the ACF regulation until it obtains an EPA waiver.

Until the ACF requirements fully kick in, CARB is extending the registration deadline for its Clean Truck Check program, originally due July 31, 2023, to Jan. 31, 2024. This registration enrolls all trucks operating under the same DOT number into the Clean Truck Check-Vehicle Inspection System database. Motor carriers must still pay the $30 per truck compliance fee.

Meanwhile, the California Trucking Association filed a federal lawsuit to prevent the ACF regulation from proceeding at all. Among the legal arguments advanced by the trucking association is that EPA cannot issue a waiver because the ACF regulation requires carriers to  abandon internal combustion engines. The Clean Air Act, by comparison, sets federal emissions standards while preserving carriers’ choice in the fuel they use and type of vehicle they buy.

Legal arguments aside, CARB also faces the reality manufacturers aren’t producing ZEV trucks in numbers large enough to satisfy the ACF regulation and the charging infrastructure to power battery-operated ZEV trucks is still in its infancy, in California and nationwide.

Work by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) underscores the challenges ahead for all-electric fleets in California. The battery materials needed to power millions of  California based cars and trucks would consume over 400% of the annual global production of cobalt, 379% of graphite, 492% of lithium, and a “mere” 89% of global nickel production. ATRI also notes that batteries add significant weight to electric trucks. The resulting decrease in freight capacity would require 1,343 ZEV trucks to move the same amount shipped in 1,000 traditional tractors, a concern raised by PrePass.

The trucking industry has made meaningful progress in reducing emissions over the past decades. For now, achieving zero emissions on a strict timetable with one-size-fits-all technology may be “California Dreamin’.”

The PrePass blog and podcasts are published as a public service of PrePass®, the most reliable and technologically advanced weigh station bypass and integrated electronic trucking toll payment platform in North America. PrePass also includes INFORM™ Safety and INFORM™ Tolling software for improving truck safety scores and lowering toll costs.