March 23, 2020

California’s Air Quality Goals

California is renowned for its focus, some would say obsession, on climate change and the many laws and regulations that continue to be enacted in order to limit or reduce the emittance of greenhouse gases and other pollutants into the atmosphere.

This is not to say that air quality is not important; it is. In fact, Western Growers and other agricultural organizations have been very supportive of the Funding Agricultural Replacement Measures for Emission Reductions Program (FARMER). FARMER is an incentive program that matches private investment and public grant money to fund the replacement of older/higher emitting trucks, harvesters, agricultural irrigation pumps, and other agricultural equipment with newer equipment that have much lower emissions. This is an important program because it is voluntary and emissions are reduced immediately. However, the challenges that lie ahead in reaching California’s ever-expanding air quality goals are becoming quite apparent and the real-world impact on agriculture is coming into clearer focus.

Current law requires that California reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Additionally, the state is aggressively implementing a carbon neutrality goal for 2045. To meet these goals, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has been considering new regulations that target the electrification of vehicles. In fact, CARB has determined that the 2045 carbon neutrality goal will only be attained if all vehicles are zero-emission by 2045.

What does that mean? It may be easy to say, but it’s hard to overstate the ramifications of implementing this across the board. CARB is currently considering two potential regulations that highlight zero emissions strategies.

The first is an updated regulation on Transportation Refrigeration Units (TRUs). CARB wants to eliminate the emission of diesel exhaust from these units and is reviewing the available technology and associated infrastructure requirements in order to implement a regulation that would mandate the transition of the TRU fleet from diesel power to a zero–emission fuel—most likely battery/electric. The second potential regulatory concept is the Advanced Clean Truck regulation. This regulation would be a first of its kind mandate on truck manufacturers that would require them to manufacture and offer for sale a percentage of zero-emission vehicles. The percentage sales requirement would initially start low but would ramp up significantly the closer we get to 2045.

These regulatory concepts may be well intentioned, but it is clear too little thought has been given to what implementation of these regulations would mean for Californians and for agriculture. There are serious questions that must be resolved beyond just the cost and technology issues. Moving to a zero-emission transportation economy requires a stable and predictable electrical grid. We’ve seen all too often within the past several years how unreliable our grid is. Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) events are becoming more common as utilities struggle with maintaining the balance of delivering power in a safe way while avoiding the potential for catastrophic wildfires.

What happens if food rots at the processing facility because TRU units are not able to operate due to a PSPS event? How many chargers must be available at the facility for the TRU and/or truck to be plugged in? What does it mean for our food system if trucks have to be plugged in for a 6- to 10-hour charge in order to be capable of making food deliveries? What are the safety risks inherent to employees due to operating these high-voltage plug-ins? Utilities and companies will also need ample lead time to determine how to re-design their facilities, attain the proper permits, and complete the electrification upgrades that will be necessary in order to meet these goals.

Western Growers has been actively participating in these regulatory discussions with CARB to ensure that agriculture’s concerns are being heard and addressed. Our industry is unique and often misunderstood. Our members provide an essential service: food. Essential services, much like emergency services, must be able to rely on stable infrastructure. Questions around food quality, food safety and food security need to be considered as we continue forward on this path to implement California’s air quality mandates. Western Growers staff is always available to answer any questions that you may have.