Don’t Trash the Garbage Trucks
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) and their staff have been trashing the garbage trucks for years in search of a perfect carbon neutral tomorrow in 2045. After being told by CARB and the large air districts to get off diesel over two decades ago, the refuse industry stepped up and have been making great strides in replacing their diesel fleet with compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles and fueling infrastructure spending billions of dollars. Making the CNG fleet work took several iterations of technology advancement, harmonizing with near-zero NOx engines to drastically reduce criteria pollutants, while reducing greenhouse gases. Meanwhile state mandates were adopted to divert organic waste from landfills to reduce short-lived climate pollutants where in-state carbon negative, renewable natural gas (RNG) is now being produced to fuel those trucks. Just when the refuse industry can offer up community-scale, circular economy solutions to achieve major federal and state goals in the near-term, CARB switches gears and have been applying a consistent amount of torque at any given time to disrupt the heavy-duty lifting that has been occurring to fulfill the promise to reduce diesel use.
CARB, first, graduated internal combustion engines from HVIP incentive funding, which effectively removed the natural gas engine, certified to the 0.02 g/bhp-hr NOx standard. Then, CARB staff defined these engines out of being ‘near-zero’ as part of the Advanced Clean Truck rule. CARB told industry to look over there, at the Carl Moyer Program for funding that never happened, and then look over here. The Heavy-Duty Omnibus regulation funding that had been promised to pay for this graduation never materialized. Instead, CARB wants to cut the standard in half to 0.01 g/bhp-hr, without incentives, scaring engine manufacturers to curtail production. The Mobile Source Strategy plans to squeeze out near-zero NOx engines, even with in-state RNG use. CARB is being opaque, sending smoke signals which may keep fleets on diesel for the next 13 to 18 years, banking on billions and billions of dollars to electrify the heavy-duty fleet and infrastructure, and disrupting momentum to reduce diesel use.
The Legislature finally had to step into audit CARB and made a series of recommendations to have CARB better demonstrate that its incentive programs are as cost-effective as possible in achieving specific socioeconomic benefits and to improve its ability to identify the effectiveness of each of its incentive programs in reducing GHG emissions. The 2021 Annual Report to the Legislature on California Climate Investments Using Cap-and-Trade Auction Proceeds lists the cost-effectiveness of each program in terms of GHG reduction cost per ton, where ZEVs and similar programs costs thousand of dollars per ton, while CalRecycle programs are just $10-$55 per ton to make compost and carbon negative renewable natural gas. The refuse fleet inventory of approximately 15,000 heavy-duty vehicles can easily utilize a probable 119 million gallons of RNG, which is under development through 2024. The Waste Sector offers a carbon-negative, circular economy now that does not have to wait until 2045 to be carbon neutral.
The Legislature plans to modernize the Carl Moyer Program with AB 363 (Medina) this year to get needed funding. A large group of legislators sent a letter to the Governor and the legislative leadership to express support and request consideration of a $750 million 2021-22 state budget item to fund the near-term substantial turnover of dirty, heavy-duty diesel trucks to clean zero- and low-NOx truck technology. This allocation would provide incentive funding to make real progress toward cleaning the air, addressing climate change, reducing cancer-causing toxic diesel emissions, and protecting California’s disadvantaged communities now, and not wait for 13 to 18 years of diesel use wishing upon an electric dream.
CARB, with a new chair and three new board members, will be preparing the Third Update to the AB 32 Scoping Plan in parallel with fulfilling the Legislative Audit recommendations for greater transparency and cost-effectiveness. We hope that the new CARB, with legislative oversight, can clear the air now and stop trashing the garbage trucks that have delivered on their promises.