California seeks to ban sales of diesel big rigs in a bold bid to cut pollution. But environmentalists say the state has little power to protect the environment from what could be a growing industry
By Kevin Donovan
May 29, 2015 – More than a decade ago, when the California Legislature passed a state law designed to encourage the use of alternative fuels, the state’s official climate action plan included a long-term goal of banning all construction of new diesel trucks by 2020.
Environmentalists have since argued that the law is a bad fit for a state that is already seeing growing oil and gas drilling development and industry, and that it was never intended to lead to a dramatic reduction or elimination of the state’s use of diesel-fueled heavy trucks.
“When you have a law that can be interpreted to lead to a result that is not in the public’s interest, it’s clear that the law is not a solid basis for law,” said Jeff Ruch, president of the California Trucking Association.
But just how strong is government’s ability to regulate emissions from the nation’s highways? In the months since the state passed the law, California drivers of big rigs have begun to notice: The use of those big diesel-fueled trucks dropped by a third in January compared to the previous month, according to tracking data released by the state Department of Motor Vehicles. In December, the number of heavy-truck trips on the road grew only slightly, and the total number of miles driven by those vehicles plummeted.
California, along with other oil-rich states, including Texas, North Dakota and North Carolina, have adopted vehicle emission standards and tightened state emissions inspections for diesel vehicles since the 1990s, with the goal of curbing diesel exhaust pollution and helping the state meet its goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
The reduction of road-use by diesel trucks may be the best early indicator of California’s efforts to meet its 2020 pollution reduction goal.
While the state’s big trucks are still more polluting than other heavy vehicles like cars,