Calif. floats plan to reduce emissions from freight sector

Source: Debra Kahn, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, August 2, 2016

California Gov. Jerry Brown’s (D) administration released a set of goals Friday to reduce carbon and air pollution from one of the state’s most stubborn sources of emissions: the freight sector.

The “California Sustainable Freight Action Plan” envisions shifting rail cars, delivery trucks and other freight infrastructure to zero-emissions technology in an attempt to cut emissions, particularly near poor communities that often live close to ports.

While total greenhouse gases have been falling in California, emissions from the freight sector have been on the rise. Freight currently contributes 6 percent of the state’s total CO2 emissions and will keep increasing without the plan, state officials said.

The plan is to deploy more than 100,000 freight-related vehicles and pieces of equipment that are zero-emissions capable by 2030, according to the plan released Friday afternoon by the state’s Air Resources Board, Department of Transportation, Energy Commission, and Office of Business and Economic Development. Another goal is to “maximize” the use of renewably powered equipment.

Rather than a strict emissions reduction target, it envisions improving the carbon intensity of the sector by 25 percent by 2030 — by increasing the value of goods and services produced.

Some examples of cleaner freight include “truck platooning,” where trucks coordinate braking and acceleration with each other to reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency; a proposal to build a rail line closer to ships in order to bypass the need for truck transport, known as “on-dock rail”; and a way to power trucks with methane gas captured from dairies.

An administration official said the plan struck a good balance between environmental and economic goals. State Transportation Secretary Brian Kelly said the plan “reflects an investment strategy that’s right for California: expand economic development, create jobs and protect our environment. The plan doesn’t choose between these objectives, but proposes strategies to achieve them all.”

Enviros raise concerns

But environmentalists said the policy falls short of what’s needed to actually reduce emissions.

“Even if you’re getting a 25 percent reduction, the increases in freight will, back-of-the-envelope calculations, result in an increase,” said Adrian Martinez, an attorney with Earthjustice. “It should actually be a much higher reduction to get any reduction in greenhouse gases.”

Business interests, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and the California Trucking Association, had argued that an earlier draft of the plan emphasized environmental objectives over economic concerns.

The state will re-evaluate the targets by 2019.

Martinez praised the collaboration between the agencies but said he thought there should be more direct regulations in the plan. Some ripe areas are cargo-unloading equipment at the ports and drayage trucks, which transport goods short distances from the ports to rail yards or distribution centers, he said.

“The cornerstone of any plan to tackle this freight pollution problem must have regulations,” Martinez said. “The basis here is fewer regulations and more ‘Let’s try to get the money out there.’ We think they should focus on putting regulations in place, and that’s going to send the market signal.”

California has already spent a lot of money on reducing emissions from its freight sector — $1 billion from a 2006 voter-approved bond, Proposition 1B, which helped fund more than 13,000 clean truck, locomotive and marine vessel technology projects.

But that source is running out, so the state is now proposing to turn to the federal Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, enacted in December, which is expected to give California an additional $117 million annually, on average, plus a share of $900 million in competitive grants. It will also rely on an as-yet-unapproved proposal from Brown to spend $2 billion on freight over the next 10 years, partly with money from the auction of greenhouse gas permits.

Officials said they would work with the Legislature on a funding package and a method to distribute federal funds by January 2017.