State, local actions seek carbon neutral future through diesel reduction

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 44, a bill that works to set California on track to transition off of diesel, into law Friday and issued an executive order driving state investment toward carbon neutral technology.

The recently passed legislation falls closely in line with proposals that the city of Berkeley’s Community Environmental Advisory Commission, or CEAC, may soon present to Berkeley City Council. The proposals, which were drafted by CEAC chairperson Ben Gould, include a future city ban on the sale of gasoline and diesel and a prohibition of combustion vehicles on Berkeley roads. According to Gould, SB 44 and the executive order both align with the commission’s recent proposals and will likely strengthen the city’s ability to achieve its long-held carbon neutral goal.

“Right now there is not a comprehensive plan — at either the state or local level — that will achieve carbon neutrality by the targeted date,” Gould said in an email. “Both levels of government are working on developing such a plan, and SB 44 provides for a component of it.”

SB 44 was introduced by Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and seeks to put California on par with federal ambient air quality standards by requiring the California Air Resources Board, or CARB, to develop and implement a strategy for getting more low-emission trucks on the road. SB 44 also mandates that CARB establishes goals and invests in technology geared toward reducing harmful greenhouse gas, or GHG, emissions from “medium duty vehicles” by 2030 and from “heavy duty vehicles” by 2050. 

The law will go into effect in 2021 and will kick-start California’s investment in clean air medium and heavy duty vehicle technologies, along with $182 million previously allocated toward green initiatives in the 2019-20 budget.

“Tailpipe pollution from petroleum diesel is bad for our health. That’s especially true for West Oakland and Richmond neighborhoods near ports and trucking routes where childhood asthma rates are far higher than neighborhoods just half a mile away,” Skinner said in a press release. “SB 44 will clean up our air and protect families and children.”

Newsom’s executive order directs both the California State Transportation Agency and CARB to make significant strides toward clean infrastructure investments and a cleaner auto industry, respectively.

Mayor Jesse Arreguín applauded the state’s moves toward carbon neutrality. In a statement, he said action aimed at improving air quality across the state is especially important for some Berkeley residents living next to the freeway, where the child asthma hospitalization rate is “significantly” higher than in other parts of the city.

“Berkeley has taken great strides in reducing our GHG emissions, but one sticking point is transportation emissions,” Arreguín said in the statement. “SB 44 will help us lower our transportation emissions while also improving air quality, especially along the I-80 corridor.”

Contact Jacob Souza and Rachel Barber at [email protected].