Tech Limits, Costs Fueling Conflict Over ‘Green’ Fleets

Posted February 9, 2024 at 11:28 am

While fleet owners and policymakers largely agree on the need for more environmentally friendly trucks, a combination of technological limits and high costs are complicating efforts by regulators to push operators to switch to alternative-fuel vehicles.

Michael Taylor, a senior adviser at HillStaffer, a government relations and public affairs consultancy in Washington, DC, makes that case in a forthcoming article in Textile Services magazine on “green” fleets. He also serves as the advocacy lead for NAFA, the Fleet Management Association, based in Edison, NJ.

Taylor argues that – in essence – a lack of affordable, viable technologies for converting fleets is stymying efforts by government agencies as well as fleet operators to transition out of gas or diesel-fueled truck fleets that produce greenhouse gasses implicated in climate change.

In light of these trends, Taylor notes that fleet managers face the prospect of regulatory mandates in various states to convert commercial vehicles to alternative fuels. For example, by 2035 California has mandated that half of all trucks switch to electronically powered engines.

Taylor says government requirements like these are impractical for private-sector companies to comply with at this time. “There’s an awful lot of disregard of reality in these rulemakings,” he said, noting that a lack of alt-fuel vehicles and fueling stations are complicating these efforts. “From my perspective, there are serious questions on the infrastructure. Will the grid be ready? Members on our side really focus on availability of the vehicle, particularly when it comes to needed configurations, as well as requirements around duty cycles and ranges and the limitations of batteries.” With current technology, long-haul trucks will require frequent recharging that would put a drag on fleet efficiency. There are issues of how well EV trucks will operate in cold weather as well.

Taylor adds that 17 other states and the District of Columbia are likely to take their “marching orders” on fleet conversions from California policymakers. In addition, six states have said they’ll adopt the Advanced Clean Fleets (ACF) regulation, which centers on controlling greenhouse gas emissions.

Taylor works with lawmakers in the Golden State and nationwide to point out the practical limitations that private fleets are facing on emissions control. He also confers with regulators in pursuit of workable alternatives. “Our position on all of this is that we support the goals,” he says. “What we care about is we want to minimize the burdens on fleets. We want to provide all of our fleet managers with a clearer and more feasible pathway to compliance. We just keep pointing out at a very granular level in every one of these states that the grid is unlikely to be ready. The vehicles are not available. Therefore, we can’t be compliant by a certain date. There’s a lot of questions around that.”

Taylor adds that regulators also should consider the financial burdens that private-sector companies take on when governments mandate new rules for private-sector fleet operators. “Cost is a big factor too,” Taylor says. “Because quite honestly, I don’t think many people appreciate the full cost of what’s going on here. You know, is there enough money? Are there enough programs? This is something that shouldn’t be ignored, right?”

Taylor is working to add an appeals process in the ACF regulation that would allow fleet operators to qualify for exemptions and extensions to green-vehicle mandates. He’s promoting this process as a legislative fix in California to improve ACF, and he says there’s some support for this measure. “We’re hoping that California will become a more positive example, and that the other states will follow their example.”

In addition to Taylor’s comments, next month’s article in Textile Services, titled “PFAS, Microplastics & Fleet Rules – Risks and Opportunities,” also will address efforts to reduce discharges of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and microplastics in wastewater. Click here to read a PDF version of the full article. For subscription information, click here.