The California Air Resources Board on Thursday adopted a regulation to phase out the sale and use of large fossil fuel-powered forklifts in the state by 2038.

Under the rule, manufacturers cannot produce or sell Class 4 and 5 propane and gas forklifts of up to 12,000 pounds starting in 2026. Large businesses would start retiring their current large-spark forklifts within those classes beginning in 2028, leading up to a total prohibition in 2038. Agency staff estimated the phase-out would impact more than 89,000 forklifts.

The agriculture and natural resources sector accounts for 5% of the forklifts targeted in the regulation, though the regulation exempts small businesses and Class 7 rough-terrain forklifts.

“Meeting California's public health, air quality, environmental justice and climate goals requires more emissions reductions than we can achieve from combustion-based strategies alone,” said CARB Chair Liane Randolph. “We need to transition to zero-emission technologies.”

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The agency expects the rule to cut more than 18,000 tons of nitrous oxide emissions and prevent 544 premature deaths, avoiding $57.5 billion in healthcare costs.

Farm groups said the rule is costly and infeasible due to inadequate infrastructure in rural areas for electric and hydrogen fuel-cell forklifts. Several farm groups pushed for extending the phase-out timeline due to the seasonal nature of the industry.

“Those costs affect our bottom line,” said Priscilla Rodriguez, assistant vice president at the Western Agricultural Processors Association. “We operate in a global market. We can’t simply increase the price-per-pound of our almonds, pistachios or walnuts.”

California Farm Bureau Political Affairs Director Steven Fenaroli said the capital costs associated with the rule will put significant pressure on small farmers, who may not be able to meet the deadlines.

Several natural gas businesses and associations opposed the regulation. The Western Propane Gas Association warned the mandate will cost owners and operators up to $27 billion and affect 220,000 forklifts. The trade group argued the regulation would hurt small businesses, food banks and state agencies already facing cutbacks.

A broad coalition of environmental and social justice groups applauded the rule. Dori Chandler, a policy advocate at the Coalition for Clean Air, said that the frequency of high-ozone days has increased the risk of premature births, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. 

“This is especially bad for people of color and those in economically disadvantaged areas,” said Chandler. “Zero-emission technology for forklifts is proven.”

Earthjustice Attorney Regina Hsu said she would like to see CARB go further by adopting an accelerated timeline to completely phase out targeted forklifts earlier.

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