US Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) questioned witnesses at an Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate, and Nuclear Safety hearing titled “Cleaner Vehicles: Good for Consumers and Public Health.” The hearing follows the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) announcement of two proposed rules to curb greenhouse gasses and other emissions from light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles for Model Year 2027 and after. During the hearing, Padilla heard testimony from Chris Harto, senior energy policy analyst at Consumer Reports; Kathy Harris, senior advocate at Clean Vehicles and Fuels and the Natural Resources Defense Council; and Andrew Boyle, co-president of Boyle Transportation and first vice-chair of the American Trucking Association.
Padilla opened his remarks by touting California’s environmental policy leadership to combat the climate crisis. He also raised the importance of EPA’s proposed clean car rules for saving drivers money on gas, creating high-quality jobs and positioning the United States as a leader in zero-emission vehicle technology.
Padilla then went on to highlight the importance of implementing the strongest possible vehicle emissions standards to protect public health and ensure access to clean air for Californians, especially low-income communities and communities of color, such as in California’s Inland Empire. He asked Mr. Harto to speak about how EPA’s new proposed rules to strengthen emissions standards will mitigate air pollution for these communities. Harto responded by expressing that decarbonizing our vehicles will create significantly cleaner air in disadvantaged communities.
Padilla went on to emphasize that EPA’s heavy-duty standards need to aim higher in order to reduce trucking pollution and to put the trucking industry on a path to zero emissions. He asked Ms. Harris how the EPA can be even more ambitious in its final rule to lower emissions. She responded by reiterating how EPA’s new truck standards are a good step, but also said they can be more ambitious and noted that the trucking industry has the capacity to do so.
PADILLA: I am starting to like this subcommittee and committee as a whole. It seems like every time I walk in from another committee, I’m told that they were bashing California, again, for the audacity to exercise some policy leadership. So let me just say that you’re absolutely right, we’re setting the bar high. But we’re also thoughtful enough from the governor, the Legislature, the congressional delegation, on down to be thoughtful about a transition from fossil fuel vehicles to electric. The EPA’s latest rules are important for so many reasons. Right, they’re going to save drivers money on gas, they’re going to create high-quality jobs in the process and continue to position the United States as a leader in zero-emission vehicle technology.
PADILLA: Equally important to my constituents are the public health protections that come from cleaning up vehicles, particularly in the heavy-duty sector. I can’t tell you how often I hear from constituents who just want to be able to breathe clean air outside, go outside and play with their kids, and live healthy lives. I hear frequently from constituents all over California, but particularly in the Inland Empire which is the nation’s capital when it comes to logistics. Now, we all know people love in this day and age getting products, whatever they buy online literally delivered to their doorstep. But we have to understand that that convenience comes with a significant cost to the public health of Californians, not just but especially in the Inland Empire.
PADILLA: Mr. Hart, I appreciate your testimony, and your organization’s reports that shine a light on the environmental injustice happening in the Inland Empire in California, often referred to, as I said, as America’s logistics capital. Now the reports show that the impact of the rapid expansion of warehouses in the area disproportionately falls on low-income communities and communities of color, which increases air pollution in the area due to trucks that burn fuel and transport goods to and from our warehouses, to and from ports, and to and from homes. Can you speak for a minute on how EPA’s proposed heavy-duty rule will mitigate air pollution in these communities?
HART: We know that decarbonizing and removing emissions from these vehicles that are driving around communities, in people’s front yards, where children are playing, in communities, is extremely important to improving the health of all Americans, especially Americans who live in disadvantaged communities.
PADILLA: I’ve been fighting for cleaner trucks since I first came to the Senate, from pushing EPA to originally revise the standards back in 2021, to moving the Clean Trucks Plan to the proposed ‘Phase Three’ standards that we’re discussing today. Questions for Ms. Harris. Now, NRDC has written about how the final ‘Phase Three’ standards need to aim higher in order to reduce trucking pollution and put the trucking industry on a path to zero emissions. What do you mean by “aiming higher?” Can you describe what being more ambitious means to you?
HARRIS: EPA’s truck standards are an important step forward. But the main proposal is much too weak. Truck makers have shown that they can deliver less polluting and zero-polluting vehicles. And EPA needs standards that will get them to get them on the road. This is especially true given the historic stand incentives for electric heavy-duty vehicles that were included in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act.
Earlier this year, Padilla and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) led 56 of their colleagues in sending a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan urging the agency to finalize and issue strong vehicle greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standards for both cars and trucks by the end of the year. In March 2022, Padilla and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) successfully pushed the Administration to revise emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks, which had previously not been revised in 20 years. In November 2021, Sens. Markey, Padilla and Feinstein and Representative Matsui led a letter to EPA to strengthen vehicle emissions standards for passenger cars and light trucks for Model Years 2023 through 2026.