California's green agenda is targeting every mode of transportation, despite wide opposition

California's government 'seems hell-bent on further crippling our economy and burdening our workers,' says GOP Rep Michelle Steel

California's state government, under the leadership of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, is pursuing a wide-ranging climate agenda targeting the transportation sector — actions that could have major economic implications.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB), the state's main environmental regulator, has finalized new rules mandating a rapid transition from traditional petroleum-powered modes of transportation to zero-emissions alternatives as it pursues a sweeping climate agenda. CARB has identified passenger cars, heavy-duty trucking, freight trains and harbor vessels for the changeover. 

"We can solve this climate crisis if we focus on the big, bold steps necessary to cut pollution," Newsom remarked in August 2022.


The governor's comments came shortly after CARB finalized regulations phasing out new gas-powered cars, and mandating 100% electric vehicle sales by 2035. Nearly 20 other states have since adopted those rules, meaning more than 40% of the country will be impacted by the mandate to some extent.

Environmentalists nationwide have set their sights on transportation because of its high carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions, which they say are contributing to global warming. According to the latest state data, the transportation sector accounts for 39% of California's carbon emissions, the largest share of any sector and more than the industrial and power sectors combined.

Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has repeatedly pushed policies to accelerate the electrification of his state's transportation sector. (Getty Images)

The state's broad effort to electrify its transportation sector is part of the California Climate Commitment unveiled by Newsom two years ago. Under the plan, the state is phasing out reliance on fossil fuels, deploying green energy, cutting greenhouse gas emissions 85% by 2045 and decreasing oil demand by a staggering 94%.


The new regulations have received widespread criticism from Republicans, Democrats, consumer groups and industry associations, which argue such a plan is unworkable and not feasible. In a recent federal filing, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents major automakers and supports a transition to EVs, said it had "continued concerns with the feasibility" of the plan.

EV charging

A driver charges his electric vehicle at a charging station in Monterey Park, California, on Aug. 31, 2022. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

"CARB has an ideological commitment to reducing emissions from transportation," said Diana Furchtgott-Roth, the director of the Heritage Foundation's Center for Energy, Climate, and Environment. "They particularly don't seem to like personal mobility, where people can go around anywhere they want in whatever kind of vehicle they want.

"So, they say people are just going to have to get used to electric vehicles, whether they like them or not, and go where the charging stations are. This seems to be an ideological, semi-religious, cultish viewpoint."


In 2023, 9.5% of new, light-duty vehicle sales were EVs, up from 7% in 2022 and 4.3% in 2021, according to data from the Alliance for Automotive Innovation. California's regulations kick in next year, requiring 35% of model year 2026 car purchases to be electric and, one year later, requiring 43% of model year 2027 cars to be electric.

In addition to that mandate, CARB adopted the nation's most aggressive truck electrification plan in April 2023 and, shortly thereafter, regulations targeting freight train emissions. The former mandates wide swaths of the heavy-duty vehicle sector to be electrified by 2035, and the latter requires locomotives to begin transitioning to zero-emissions technology in 2030.


Less than 1% of new truck sales in the U.S. are zero-emissions, according to the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association. (Graham Hughes/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The American Trucking Associations blasted the heavy-duty vehicle rule, saying it sets "unrealistic targets and unachievable timelines." And the Association of American Railroads — which is suing California over the freight train regulations — said "there is no clear path to zero emissions locomotives."

"Commerce is the lifeblood of the economy and transportation of goods — most of which is by trucks and a lot of it also by train," Marlo Lewis, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said in an interview. "An efficient economy would be one where the costs of transport are as low as possible, consistent with safety and real environmental concerns."


Lewis criticized CARB's rules targeting trucking and freight trains, saying it would have negative economic consequences and potentially lead to higher consumer prices.

The American Trucking Associations estimates that trucks transported a whopping 11.5 billion tons of freight in 2022, equivalent to about 72% of total tonnage shipped nationwide. But less than 1% of new truck sales in the U.S. are zero emissions, according to the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association. And those electric trucks remain far costlier than diesel-powered models, they say. 

train on track

In response to California's regulations, the Association of American Railroads said "there is no clear path to zero emissions locomotives." (Luis Antonio Rojas/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Additionally, freight railroads haul another 1.6 billion tons of raw materials and finished goods every year, data from the Association of American Railroads shows.

"At a qualitative level, this is going to increase the cost of national transportation services — private, commercial, industrial — enormously. There's just no doubt about that," said Benjamin Zycher, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

"Even if you assume and make wild assumptions about the benefits in terms of climate phenomena and all the rest, there's just no way the benefits exceed the cost. It's just impossible," he added.


In addition, CARB recently amended its Commercial Harbor Craft regulation, requiring a wide array of vessels, including tugboats, towboats and barges, to install cleaner upgrades and newer technology. In particular, vessels must install diesel particulate filters, a major retrofit that has some groups concerned about safety. 

The American Waterways Operators (AWO), which represents the tugboat, towboat and barge industry, has opposed the regulation over concerns about diesel particulate filters (DPFs) catching fire. In her opinion piece in the DC Journal, Jennifer Carpenter, president and CEO of the AWO, wrote:

"While a truck driver can run from a fire, a vessel crew’s only option may be to abandon ship, which is hazardous and always a last resort. Introducing new fire risks to heavily trafficked ports with combustible cargoes is also dangerous — imagine the threats to safety, the environment and property if a DPF ignites on a tugboat carrying 110,000 barrels of fuel."

And the U.S. Coast Guard penned a letter obtained by Politico in February, informing CARB that it would refuse to enforce the new mandate.

Rep. Michelle Steel, R-Calif.

Rep. Michelle Steel, R-Calif., speaks during a news conference in October 2021. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The vessel restrictions were also subject to a recent letter from a coalition of California Republicans led by Rep. Michelle Steel. The lawmakers called on CARB to delay implementation of the rules and consider stakeholder input.

"CARB seems hell-bent on further crippling our economy and burdening our workers," Steel told Fox News Digital. "Whether it’s an absurd mandate that 100% of new car sales be zero-emission vehicles by 2035, or a downright dangerous requirement that towing vessels install faulty diesel particulate filters, CARB has repeatedly set forth regulations that defy logic and harm people."

Rep. Jay Obernolte, R–Calif., called the CARB rule an "overreach" and "nonsensical." 

"In the case of towing vessels, CARB is relying on untested technology that our own Coast Guard has indicated they will not be able to enforce. And when it comes to locomotives, there are no freight locomotives available that comply with the zero-emissions requirement of the CARB regulation, and the physics of weight and energy density strongly suggest there will still be none when the regulation’s target of 2030 is reached," he said.

Lys Mendez, communications director for CARB, said in a statement that the board has entered into a "Clean Truck Partnership" with heavy-duty truck manufacturers like Ford, Daimler, General Motors, Isuzu, Navistar, Volvo and others in an effort to "work toward shared goals around emissions reductions."

"The benefits of a zero-emissions future are clear for Californians and the state continues to spur innovation that will bring better technology, savings and public health benefits for consumers," Mendez said. "All of CARB's regulations are developed as part of a rigorous and thorough public process, which includes significant engagement from interested parties such as regulated industries and consumers. As part of every rulemaking, CARB conducts a financial analysis, which includes an assessment of costs, cost-savings, and benefits — including from public health benefits such as reduced illness, hospitalization and death due to cleaner air."

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