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California Legislators Call for Technology-Neutral Approach to Decarbonization

Nov. 11, 2020
Legislators urge Governor Newsom to focus on fuel cells in heavy-duty vehicle decarbonization plans.

Members of the California State Legislature recently sent a formal letter to Governor Gavin Newsom urging that he take a 'technology-neutral' approach to decarbonization and not focus the state's transportation sector investments solely on battery electric vehicles, particularly in medium- and heavy-duty transportation applications where they say fuel cell electric vehicles may be the only solution.

Nine members of the State Senate and Assembly wrote in the letter sent also to California Air Resources Board (CARB) Chair Mary Nichols and California Energy Commission (CEC) Chair David Hochschild, "We stand deeply concerned about the impacts of medium- and heavy-duty trucks, buses, vessels, locomotives, and off-road equipment on our local air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. These sectors are particularly difficult to convert to zero-emission, and are especially well-suited for hydrogen fuel cell technology. Many in the scientific community believe that hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles are the only feasible approach to achieving zero emissions in these heavy-duty and commercial sector applications."

The three-page letter — which represents the first time legislators have formally responded to Newsom's recent executive order on zero-emission vehicles — goes on to chronicle what the authors see as a historically disproportionate focus on battery electric vehicle technology through the state's many funding programs administered by the CARB and the CEC.

"We have observed that hydrogen fuel cell electric mobility solutions have been largely deprioritized compared to battery-based vehicles," the coalition of lawmakers wrote. "But, that single technology (battery electric) will not get us there alone and fuel cell electric vehicles will need to be a significant part of our zero-emission portfolio, particularly in the heavy-duty and commercial sectors."

The Western States Hydrogen Alliance (WSHA) — a nonprofit industry organization focused on the deployment of fuel cell electric vehicles in heavy-duty and commercial settings throughout the Western United States — sees the letter as a sign of frustration within the legislature that state agencies have invested heavily in just one zero-emission technology.

"The tide is beginning to turn both in the marketplace and the Statehouse. End-users are calling for increased investment in fuel cell electric vehicles. Our electrical grid remains increasingly unreliable. Wildfires and public safety power shutoffs continue to exacerbate that problem. And yet, some of our state's top regulatory officials, who control hundreds of millions in zero-emission investment dollars, continue the wholly irresponsible practice of allowing their personal bias for one technology to drive agency decision-making while the accepted science so clearly shows that both technologies are critical in achieving their own stated goals," said WSHA Executive Director Roxana Bekemohammadi in response to the letter. "The true victims of this practice will be communities located in diesel death zones as we know that fuel cell electric vehicles are the only viable replacement for the heavy-duty diesel vehicles that continue to kill Californians every day in vulnerable communities."

The nine signatories of the letter called on Newsom to include hydrogen fuel cell technology in all administrative and agency efforts to achieve the goals outlined in his recent executive order which called for, among other things, all drayage trucks to be zero-emission by 2035 and all other heavy-duty vehicles to reach zero-emission by 2045.

"We simply ask that…you support us, the undersigned members of your legislature, as we seek to enact legislative policies that will help to facilitate the successful, technology-neutral implementation of Executive Order N-79-20," the letter closed, as signatories implied that subsequent legislation will be introduced on the issue during the coming legislative session.

A landmark bill — Senate Bill 662 — authored by Senator Bob Archuleta (D-Pico Rivera), was stalled in the legislature last year when COVID-19 hit during the middle of the year's session. It aimed to allow gas utilities in the state to invest in hydrogen infrastructure for the transportation sector. Similar bills may see their way back in to consideration this coming year, according to Bekemohammadi.

"The legislature has heard the call from their communities that air quality and climate change need to be addressed and they are looking to their elected leaders to take action," said Bekemohammadi. "We will no doubt see legislation upcoming on the issue of zero-emission mobility and the WSHA will be there to help ensure that meaningful, unbiased policies are put in place to achieve the admirable goals laid out by the governor. The authors of this letter are right on point in asking that Newsom support them as they seek to implement policies that support fuel cell technology in the heavy-duty sector as that is the only way they, as legislators, can heed the call of their constituents and the governor, all of whom want dirty diesel pollution out of California communities."

Signatories to the letter, initiated and organized by Senator Bob Archuleta (D-Pico Rivera), include Archuleta, Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles), Assemblymember Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin (D-Ventura), Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-Carson), Assemblyember Marc Levine (D-Marin County), Assemblymember James Ramos (D-Highlands), and Assemblymember Autumn Burke (D-Inglewood).

The full text of the letter can be viewed here.

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