What SoCal Experts Say About Clean Air, Clean Trucks
and Abating Climate Change
AT OUR ANNUAL Transportation Conversation we bring a wide range of civic leaders together to dream big about solutions for some of our most intractable community challenges and to form the alliances and coalitions required to implement real change. Our ninth annual conversation, TC9, was held at the LA Cathedral Convention Center on Oct. 27. LA Mayor Garcetti has chided us for creating the biggest panels on the planet and this year there were no less than 54 speakers and panelists, from State Senators Fran Pavley and Ricardo Lara to Tom Steyer, from LA County Supervisor Shiela Kuehl to Metro's Chief Innovation Officer Joshua Schank. (See all the names here—it's a big new coalition we're building.) The remarks below from some of the panelists sketch out both the importance and the challenges of a key part of our Vision 2020—the deployment of clean trucks.
Dr. Clark Parker, South Coast Air Quality Management District Governing Board
- Diesel trucks produce NOx (nitrous oxides), create the biggest clean air challenge in the region, and are the reason we can’t reach clean air attainment. The diesel trucks coming up from the ports carry 40% of all the cargo that enters the U.S.—the goods movement industry is the biggest economic engine in Southern California.
- Every heavy-duty diesel truck that becomes a zero- or near-zero truck would achieve the same emission reductions as if we took 15,000 cars off the road. The 2 million trucks in the region produce 10 times the pollution of our 12 million cars!
- The difficulty of making the transition to clean trucks is in part due to cost—trucks have a long lifespan and new trucks cost as much as $250,000 to $300,000. There need to be incentives for truckers to make the change. Regulations won’t work—we can’t make the truckers buy clean trucks—because the AQMD has no authority over mobile sources and neither does the state [with respect to trucks]. Governing [heavy-duty] mobile sources is the province of the federal government.
Bryn Lindblad, Deputy Director, Climate Resolve:
- The transportation sector is responsible for 39% of all GHG emissions in California. If we add emissions from refineries the transportation sector is responsible for more than half of all GHG emissions.
Denny Zane, Executive Director, Move LA:
If we could clean our air and reduce GHG emissions in Southern California—the 12th largest economy in the world—by deploying clean cars and trucks and electrifying Metrolink, the achievement would be big enough that we would become a model for the world!
Dawn Wilson, Director of Environmental Affairs and Sustainability for SoCal Edison
- The challenge of clean trucks is that drivers are concerned about the range they can travel—electric zero-emission trucks can travel only about 200-300 miles before recharging and drivers need to know they can find charging infrastructure when they run out of power. That infrastructure doesn’t exist right now but we are working on it!
George Minter, Regional VP, External Affairs and Environmental Strategy, SoCal Gas Company
- It’s important to remember that air pollution is largely caused by NOx and particulate matter, whereas climate change is caused by GHG emissions, which in the transportation sector is the result of CO2. Since 40% of GHGs come from the transportation sector and 70% of that amount comes from passenger vehicles, it makes sense that we’re working so hard to electrify cars. But 90% of all the NOx emissions responsible for air pollution come from the transportation sector, and the biggest contributor is heavy-duty diesel trucks.
- The good news is that a technology now exists that can reduce those NOx emissions by 90%, and it is currently being purchased and deployed by transit agencies and by public fleets. While we’ve had a hard time dumping diesel in the trucking industry, most transit agencies in SoCal have been running their vehicles on natural gas and now they’re switching to renewable natural gas or RNG, which doesn’t come from fossil fuels but from bio-methane, which is produced by dairies and farms, landfills and sewage treatment plants.
- Bio-methane is a climate-changing gas like CO2 but even more powerful. The media is still focused on CO2, but so much bio-methane is being released into the atmosphere that climate scientists have become very concerned. Bio-methane does, however, provide a great opportunity to make our gas supply renewable, and the fact that the technology to do this exists and is being deployed is very hopeful.
John Boesel, President and CEO, CALSTART
- We want to build clean technology as fast as we can so we can meet the climate challenge and improve air quality and demonstrate that we can create jobs at the same time—that there doesn't need to be a trade-off between public health and economic opportunity. We have already created 25,000 manufacturing jobs in the region because of companies like BYD, which came to Southern California from China to manufacture their clean vehicles, and Proterra, a Silicon Valley start-up that is building electric buses in Orange County and, of course, no manufacturer employs more people than Tesla. Not all of Tesla's employees are union members, but these are still good jobs.
- The politics of the trucking industry are really difficult: Most truckers are owner/operators with 1 or 2 trucks and they are barely getting by as is. So convincing them to buy a much more expensive zero- or near-zero truck is going to require incentives if we want to get to clean air by the Olympics in 2028!