October 8, 2020 - From the October, 2020 issue

CARB Chair Mary Nichols on Clean Air & Goods Movement

TPR excerpts California Air Resources Board Chair, Mary Nichols, from two recent virtual events in which she unpacks the challenges and opportunities facing transportation decarbonization. From VX Hack-a-thon Session #2 and Los Angeles Business Council's 2020 Sustainability Summit, Chair Nichols opines on the suite of market-making regulations recently adopted in California and the technologies she believes are available to meet these mandates. Watch the LABC panel video online, here

Mary Nichols

"The technology needed to achieve this regulation—which is only one part of a multi-part omnibus regulation that we're working on—represents a mandate to the manufacturers to build and sell zero-emission vehicles on the order of what it will take to get us to our 2050 zero net-carbon goal."—Mary Nichols

Mary Nichols: Over many years of trying to get a handle on transportation emissions in Southern California in particular, but statewide as well, we have consistently run up against a problem of lack of understanding, much less clear control over, the impact that the goods movement sector has.

Despite the fact that we say logistics is the number one, actual industrial or economic sector in California—the overall strength, power, and influence of this whole sector is not really very well understood.

We find it out at times when, for example, there's a strike at the port, and the LA Times shows pictures of tankers idling, just parked off-shore. But there's nobody actually doing anything about ending yet. It happens on its own. We've got all kinds of bits and pieces of governmental authority to get there, but not a clear vision.

The last time the state put really significant money into trying to improve and clean up goods movement was a bond at least 20 years ago, and we spent all the money from that.  Since then we’ve had some funding but compared to the size of the problem, it’s definitely very small

The Advanced Clean Truck rule has been a major development this year. What do you estimate the impact this legislation will be on the environment?  Do you believe the technologies are available today to meet these mandates? Will there be additional capital and operating costs per that current class of commercial vehicles? 

Mary Nichols: The first thing to say is that anything we do in California has an impact way beyond California. If we were only going by trucks that are actually purchased in California, it would still be significant because of the size and the symbolism of our state. But the day that the Board voted on the regulation, we also had representatives from 10 states who stood up, virtually, and said they were going to do the same thing.  We already come in with a powerful coalition of state governments, not to mention local governments, that are also following and adopting what we're doing here in California.

The technology needed to achieve this regulation—which is only one part of a multi-part omnibus regulation that we're working on—represents a mandate to the manufacturers to build and sell zero-emission vehicles on the order of what it will take to get us to our 2050 zero net-carbon goal.

But it is bracketed by two other important regulations, one being a fleet purchase mandate, which will go into effect next year, but doesn't come before the Board until after the first of the year, 2021.  Another regulation, which got a little less attention but is also important, works quite aggressively to reduce emissions from diesel or other liquid fuel, traditional heavy-duty vehicles.  The reason why that's important is because it will drive more investment in the cleanest alternative fuels, and it also helps to reduce any incentive for people to purchase older technology vehicles that don't get us where we need to go for health and the environment.

This is a suite of regulations, which we've been working on for at least six years now.  Even during the time that we were writing the rules, life changed. Technologies that were considered speculative or possibilities suddenly were out in demonstration versions. But the impact of this set of rules will take us from demonstrated, known, but not widely available, technology to really a scale-up.

We're seeing not only the current big manufacturers of heavy-duty vehicles, but also new companies springing up as well as suppliers and people who want to get to the business of repairing and maintaining these new-generation vehicles.  It's a whole transformation. It really is transformational, which may be a cliche, but that is what has to happen to our transportation system—the vehicles, the fuels and how they're used. All of those things are changing, so it’s a big deal.

Now, is this going to be affordable? The answer is that it will take a few years before purchase prices are fully competitive. That's where we have to have bridging policies of incentives, and we need a whole bunch of different kinds of incentives, regulatory and financial incentives, to help bring some parity. And so, companies that want to invest are able to do it. 


We're exploring a lot of ideas, and needless to say in a time when the economy is going to be very challenged for a few years while we come back from the COVID recession, we're going to have to be more creative. But we are determined, and we have the support of our governor, our sister agencies, and many private sector investors who are looking for how best to make this transformation happen and hopefully make money doing it.

You say there are known technologies that are not widely available. Are there any technologies that are still in theory and yet to be put into at least bench-scale testing or actual practice?

I was on a call earlier today, as it’s Climate Week in New York.  One of the questions that came up was about the idea of putting solar on the roof of a truck and letting it recharge itself while it goes down the highway. The answer on that one seems to be that there's not enough space even on a very large Class 8 truck for the amount of weight of a panel that you would need to actually generate enough electricity to keep the truck going. 

But there certainly are innovations happening in two areas that I know of. One is renewable hydrogen, and ways to generate and distribute hydrogen for fuel cells, which are part of this mix as well. It's not only batteries that we're going to need; in certain applications, we think that there will be a nice market for fuel cells.

The other innovation is thinking about commercial vehicles, and especially the largest on-road trucks, as part of an integrated system—where the truck is not necessarily just a truck and a driver, but it's a part of a system that fuels a whole facility, like a big warehouse and distribution complex. In the event of power shortages or challenges, or where there are fires in the area or any of the other things that we're now having to think about as part of the existing climate change. The truck becomes an energy source itself, because when it was charged it, it created a, a little storage facility that could then be reversed to provide electricity to a building. On a small scale, we already are seeing some of this V2G, as they call it, going on. In Japan, that's been very important. We think that, given both the expense and the challenges right now of a full electricity system to serve all the needs we have that, these kind of new uses are also going to be an important part of the future.


Will COVID’s short-term impacts on personal behavior have long-term effects on reducing emissions?


I see big changes among the people that I work with. Many of whom are taking advantage of this opportunity to turn in their cars when the lease is up and not get a new one and make a decision that they’re either not going back to work at all in an office because they can work from home, or at least, they’re changing their life in a way that involves a lot less getting around in cars. So, I’m saying I think those changes may not be enough, I’m sure they’re not, but they’re indicative of what’s possible



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