NEW YORK — A new law signed by New York’s governor in September represents sweeping changes to the trucking industry in that state, leaving many in the industry to wonder how such a plan will work. Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the bill, which will ban the sale of new gas-powered cars and trucks in the state by 2035.
“New York is implementing the nation’s most aggressive plan to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions affecting our climate,” Hochul said in a statement on her web page. “To reach our ambitious goals, we must reduce emissions from the transportation sector, currently the largest source of the state’s climate pollution.”
The law redlines sales of gas-powered passenger cars, trucks, off-road vehicles and equipment by 2035; and medium- and heavy-duty vehicles by 2045. Truck manufacturers will be required, starting with the 2025 model year, to meet an annual sales percentage of new zero-emission trucks, with that quota varying among vehicle classes.
By 2035, according to the new regulations, 55% of Class 2b-3 pickup trucks and vans, three-quarters of Class 4-8 trucks and 40% of Class 7 and 8 tractors sold in the state must be zero-emission. The move models California’s recently passed Advanced Clean Trucks Rule and joins other states with similar guidelines, among them Massachusetts and New Jersey.
“The new law and regulation mark a critical milestone in our efforts and will further advance the transition to clean electric vehicles, while helping to reduce emissions in communities that have been overburdened by pollution from cars and trucks for decades,” said Hochul.
The trucking industry booed the new law on the grounds of its impracticality given the current electrical grid load, a lack of charging stations and other real-world challenges.
“We have significant concerns, not the least of which is the lack of infrastructure,” said Kendra Hems, president of the Trucking Association of New York (TANY). “We don’t think the state is going to be prepared to support the sales mandates. And it’s not only about the lack of infrastructure, but it’s also about the utilities having rate structures in place and what the overall cost of ownership is going to look like.
“I know the vehicle manufacturers are preparing for all this, but it not only hurts the industry — particularly, I think, our smaller carriers — but also the manufacturers, because they’re being forced to try and sell vehicles. It’s challenging for companies to buy them, based on price and lack of infrastructure to support their use.”
Hems said the challenges of implementing the plan aren’t hard to find, and that they turn on some of the most obvious elements of traffic management.
“One of the big concerns that we have as an industry is lack of truck parking, and now we’re talking about electrifying an industry where drivers already don’t have anywhere to park,” she said. “When we have electric trucks, where are they going to go to charge? That also gets into more of the cross-country challenges.”
To that point, a dozen governors recently signed a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to pass federal legislation that would set similar deadlines and sales quotas. Until that happens, long-haul operators in states like New York are left wondering how to navigate a patchwork of regulations and infrastructure by state.
“If you leave California with a load of produce and you’re required to use an all-electric vehicle, is the infrastructure going to be there to get us across country? What does that look like?” said Ken Johnson, CEO of Leonard’s Express based in Farmington, New York.
“Some of these states that don’t share the same values as California and New York are not going to be motivated to move that quickly. Where are we going to be able to plug our trucks in?” he continued. “I’ve been around long enough, I’ve gone through all the EPA mandates on the diesel engines and not all of them went so well.”
And then there’s the cost, said Johnson, a former chairman of TANY, which goes beyond just the price of equipping a fleet with new vehicles.
“The price of these zero-emission vehicles is currently quite a bit higher than a diesel truck,” said Johnson, whose company runs 650 rigs with 700 refrigerated trailers and 300 dry vans. “It’s also my understanding to put in a charging station is a fairly significant investment that we’re probably all going to have to do at our facilities.
“The other piece of it that you don’t hear a lot about in the publications is if the electrical grid is built big enough to handle all these additional chargers,” he added. “If I have to put in 100 charging stations here in my terminal, is the electricity coming from the road adequate to handle that?”
Stephen Wadhams, president of Phelps, New York-based Wadhams Enterprises, said his company hadn’t even begun to think about going electric before the new law passed, in large part because of what he sees as inadequacies in the current technology.
“We haul a lot of heavy, overweight permitted-type freight,” said Wadhams, whose company runs 430 units to cover a primarily three-state market territory. “I don’t think (electric trucks) are far enough advanced to haul the kind of weight that we’re handling. We haul dairy milk from farms to handlers, bottling plants, cheese plants and so on. We haul petroleum products. Obviously, this is going to hurt our petroleum business. We haul heavy there too, upwards of 107,000 pounds or so.”
Wadhams said the law impacts the industry’s ability to compete, which will ultimately affect local and state economics. He said with so many challenges in the market right now, the trucking industry can ill afford more government overreach.
“I personally just think this is a disaster; it’s pie in the sky as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “We’re already struggling to keep businesses in New York here. This is just going to drive the cost up more. Trucking companies in this state are already struggling to stay here. We just keep raising our rates to our customers and customers just keep on leaving this state.
“(Lawmakers) just don’t get it. They just don’t get it. They sign these bills, and they have no clue on what it’s going to cost or what it’s going to take to even get there. It’s just ridiculous,” he said.
Hochul has already indicated she will seek reelection as governor of New York, a position she filled following Andrew Cuomo’s resignation in August in the face of multiple sexual harassment allegations. Trucking officials said they believe Hochul’s move was thus more about drumming up political points among environmental special interests than cleaning up greenhouse gases, leaving operators holding the bag.
“I drive back and forth to Florida a lot, and there’s tractor-trailers right now that are not electric vehicles that are parked everywhere. So, on the time line, I don’t understand how they possibly think they can get this done,” said Terry Borwegen, president of Borwegen Trucking Inc. in Greenville, New York. “I know another company that has ordered electric trucks and he has them on order. He can’t get them. They’ve been on order for probably a year and a half now.”
Borwegen also expressed doubts about the nation’s ability to power a network of charging stations.
“I have been reading up on it and listening to different podcasts and such and people that have electric vehicles like yard trucks, they need two trucks to do the job that one truck does now because they have to charge. And another thing that was brought up at a conference, California has blackouts and brownouts because people are using too much electricity. So, I just can’t wrap my head around this,” she noted.
“I’m all for clean emissions. I’m all for saving the planet. I’m all for doing it the right way. But our infrastructure is not set up for this,” she said. I don’t understand it.”
Dwain Hebda is a freelance journalist, author, editor and storyteller in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to The Trucker, his work appears in more than 35 publications across multiple states each year. Hebda’s writing has been awarded by the Society of Professional Journalists and a Finalist in Best Of Arkansas rankings by AY Magazine. He is president of Ya!Mule Wordsmiths, which provides editorial services to publications and companies.