Lawmakers Debate California Emissions Standards for Trucks Advancing in the Legislature


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HARTFORD – With just one-and-a-half weeks remaining in the legislative session, some lawmakers said they still have questions about Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposal to adopt California’s stricter emissions standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.

On Monday morning, lawmakers in the Transportation Committee approved sending a bill to the House and Senate for debate – but several lawmakers questioned the impact on businesses in the state and said they needed more information before they could vote to pass the bill before the short session ends on May 4. 

The bill previously gained the approval of the Environment Committee, and is expected to be added to a larger bill being called the Connecticut Clean Air Act, along with other key environmental priorities.

The bill is a key piece of Lamont’s environmental agenda – aimed at reducing transportation-related emissions that contribute about two-thirds of the state’s nitrogen oxide emissions, which contribute to smog that can worsen heart and lung diseases like asthma, according to testimony from Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes.

Connecticut has failed for over 45 years to comply with federal ozone standards, and pollution consistently leads to New Haven and Hartford being ranked as some of the worst cities in the U.S. to live with asthma, Dykes said.

California is the only state allowed to set vehicle emissions standards separate from federal regulations, and other states have opted to follow California’s stricter standards. 

Connecticut follows the California emissions standards for light vehicles like passenger cars already, but medium- and heavy-duty vehicles including trucks and buses account for as much as 53 percent of the state’s nitrogen oxide emissions despite accounting for about 6 percent of vehicles on Connecticut roads, according to Dykes.

But the cost of those standards is a sticking point to some lawmakers and those in the trucking and transportation industry. Joseph Sculley, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, told lawmakers that a diesel truck that complies with California’s emissions standards costs about $57,905 more than a diesel truck that complies with EPA regulations. 

California’s emissions standards require a 75 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions from new trucks sold starting in 2025, and a 90 percent reduction for new trucks sold starting in 2027.

The California regulations also require manufacturers to sell an increasing percentage of zero-emissions trucks – such as electric trucks – between 2024 and 2035. Manufacturers will be required to have zero-emissions vehicles account for 55 percent of their sales of class 2 and 3 trucks, 75 percent of larger class 4 to 8 trucks, and 40 percent of truck tractors by 2035.

Sculley said the requirement to buy electric trucks would cost businesses even more, saying an electric medium-duty truck costs about 2.5 times or $130,000 more than a diesel counterpart, and an electric heavy-duty truck would cost three times or $276,000 more than a diesel counterpart.

“At the end of the phase-in period, a rough estimate shows $951 million in total incremental costs will be incurred,” Sculley said. “Even if vouchers were provided to cover just half of that amount, that would require $475.5 million in vouchers.”

State Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Lyme, the ranking Republican on the Transportation Committee said he was concerned about the cost the California standards would add to businesses that use medium- and heavy-duty trucks – especially on top of the highway mileage fee lawmakers agreed last year to impose on tractor trailers.

“I think it’s important that we look into improving our carbon emissions from heavy-duty vehicles,” Carney said. “At the same time, I don’t want to see us at a competitive disadvantage. I would prefer that if we put this in, we get rid of the highway use tax as well, because with that burden on top of the potential burden from this on trucking companies, we could see rising costs.”

Kyle DeVivo, one of the owners of DATTCO Bus, wrote in testimony to lawmakers that while school buses and other planned, short-mileage vehicles are “ripe for electrification,” the company is concerned that over the road motorcoaches are still very far from being able to meet the California emissions standards – especially in the climate Connecticut has.

“Heating and cooling cause a significant reduction in the ability for these vehicles to travel long distances and adopting these standards would serve to reduce the availability of these services for long-distance travel, pushing consumers back into personal vehicles and drastically increasing overall energy consumption,” DeVivo wrote.

State Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, said that there are businesses that want to switch over to zero emissions vehicles, but the vehicles aren’t available to them. Joining the California emissions standards along with other states, is meant to set a signal for manufacturers that there is demand for zero-emission, heavy-duty vehicles.

Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington have all adopted California’s “Advanced Clean Trucks” rule – which requires manufacturers to sell a certain percentage of zero emission trucks – and Vermont and Rhode Island have initiated the process of adopting it. Only California has adopted the nitrogen oxide regulations at this point, but other states are looking to, Cohen said.

A DEEP white paper said that transitioning to zero emissions vehicles would save businesses money – citing a Lawrence Berkeley National Lab study that  found a battery-powered heavy-duty truck would cost 13 percent less to operate per mile than a diesel truck, saving $200,000 over the lifetime of a single truck.

“We do know from different studies that zero-emission trucks will achieve cost parity with their combustible counterparts,” Cohen said. “You have a lower cost of operation æ no fuel costs, fewer components, less maintenance.”

Cohen said lawmakers are also considering expanding Connecticut’s electric vehicle rebate program – CHEAPR – so that it applies to medium- and heavy-duty trucks, and charging infrastructure, in addition to passenger vehicles.

“The comment that this is not business friendly is contrary to what we’re setting out to do, which is really about making these products available for businesses that choose to make the switch, and then incentivizing them if they do,” Cohen said.