As for the Freight Action Plan, “the great debate” currently underway is over what, exactly, constitutes a zero-emission vehicle, Neandross explains. And how that question is answered will determine the future for natural gas- and diesel-powered trucks in California.

“There really is no such thing as zero emissions,” he says. “It’s a question of ‘displaced’ emissions. Are the emissions at the power plant or at the tailpipe?”

The issue has emerged from the California rule regarding the transition to zero-emission transit vehicles. This phase-in requires transit agencies to buy battery-electric and hydrogen fuel cell buses. But the natural-gas vehicle industry—which has “pretty much owned that market” as the dominant alternative to diesel—now has a near-zero natural gas engine to go along with growing supplies of renewable natural gas fuel.

This adds up to a vehicle that can nearly match the environmental benefit of an electric bus plugged into the grid, Neandross explains, and it can be done for 1/3 the price—and the technology and infrastructure are available today.

“On paper, when you look at the analysis, the natural gas guys say why wait until 2030, why not just use natural gas?” Neandross continues. “But CARB says, ‘we want zero tailpipe emissions.’ The same logic and the same arguments will apply to last-mile [vehicles]. We’re starting to see some of this debate in the new port program for LA/Long Beach.”

The debate also has spread to a variety of commercial fleet applications, both on- and off-road, he adds.

“It’s an interesting time. I think we’re starting to see some interesting things in the plug-in hybrid world,” Neandross said. “And we’re starting to see some initial deployment of electric trucks, but they’re so heavily subsidized that it’s hard to say they’re truly commercial and economically viable.”

He also calls hydrogen fuel cells for trucks “very intriguing,” but questions the timetable for developing the necessary infrastructure.

Then again, “if you can do it with a 9-liter natural gas engine that has basically no emissions and almost no GHG emissions, that’s pretty compelling,” Neandross says.

The problem is CARB overlooks effective technologies that are available now and for the near future because of its “many long-term expectations” based around renewable energy powering the electrical grid.

“It’s a very rose-colored vision of the future,” Neandross says. “The challenge is that we’re missing many opportunities to do good things today, which includes cleaning the air up. What’s our goal? Is it to clean up the air and reduce the amount of GHG that goes in the atmosphere? Yes. Can we do that today with low-NOx renewable fuel?Yes. So why are we hearing from folks who present themselves as environmentalists not to do that? It’s sort of perplexing.”