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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

U.S. truck makers reach deal to phase out polluting diesel big rigs

Diesel-powered commercial trucks are shown in this undated photo. The trucking firm Yellow has told workers that it is shutting down.  (T.J. Kirkpatrick/Bloomberg)
By Timothy Puko Washington Post

Some of the country’s largest manufacturers of heavy trucks and engines have agreed to accept California’s plan to ban sales of new diesel big rigs by 2036 under a deal aimed in part at thwarting potential litigation and at maintaining a single national standard for truck pollution rules.

The deal averts a costly court battle with the industry’s biggest players and ease the transition to clean, electrified commercial trucks in California, the country’s largest market, and potentially other states. The agreement covers manufacturers including the industry giants Ford, General Motors, Daimler and Cummins, as well as the industry group the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association. All are agreeing to implement California’s plan regardless of how it may fare in the courts.

The coalition is called the Clean Truck Partnership and was born out of more than three months of negotiations between the industry and the California Air Resources Board, which has been pushing nation-leading new rules to clean up heavy trucks. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, heralded the deal as a major step toward reducing air pollution and emissions that warm the planet.

“California has shown the world what real climate action looks like, and we’re raising the bar yet again,” Newsom said in a statement. “Today, truck manufacturers join our urgent efforts to slash air pollution, showing the rest of the country that we can both cut dangerous pollution and build the economy of the future.”

Diesel-powered commercial trucks are a major source of air pollution nationwide, particularly affecting people living near ports, warehouses and other facilities involved in intensive shipments of goods.

In California, heavy-duty trucks account for nearly a third of the state’s nitrogen oxide pollution and more than a quarter of its fine particle pollution, according to the California Air Resources Board. Both of these pollutants are linked to asthma, other respiratory illnesses and premature death. Black and Latino people constitute a large proportion of Californians living near the state’s ports - the nation’s largest - and are therefore particularly vulnerable, California officials say.

The deal could have broader implications. Several other states often follow California’s clean-air rules, and because of California’s size, automakers often produce cars for sale nationwide at California’s standards. That has helped make California a decades-long trendsetter in reducing the air pollution emitted by cars and trucks.

Eight states have adopted a precursor to California’s current plan, accounting for about 25 percent of the U.S. truck market. The states that regularly adopt California’s regulations were briefed on the new deal at the end of the negotiations.

The manufacturers say they are committed to switching to big rigs that produce no emissions, and they touted provisions to harmonize California’s rules with a recent proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency to limit nitrogen oxide emissions. The industry for years has tried to make the rules set in Washington and Sacramento as near-identical as possible. That includes a 2019 deal the California Air Resources Board struck with several makers of passenger cars to meet the state’s stricter rules, undercutting a Trump administration plan to relax federal gas-mileage standards.

Recently, however, the industry was fighting California’s attempts to reduce pollution from and ultimately phase out diesel-powered trucks. And as part of the deal, California will adopt some of the less-stringent regulations the EPA enacted in December, including technical standards that would make it easier for trucks to comply at slightly lower pollution rates.

“Through this agreement, we have aligned on a single nationwide nitrogen oxide emissions standard, secured needed lead time and stability for manufacturers, and agreed on regulatory changes that will ensure continued availability of commercial vehicles,” Jed Mandel, the president of the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association, said in a statement. He said this pact reaffirms his group’s “long-standing commitment to reducing emissions and to a zero-emissions commercial vehicle future.”