The California Air Resources Board adopted the zero-emissions forklift regulation on June 27, 2024.

By Natalie Willis, Reporter, Valley Ag Voice

On June 27, the California Air Resources Board adopted the proposed regulation on zero-emission forklifts, mandating a phase-out of gas-powered forklifts by 2043. Despite opposition from various labor unions and industry groups — including an agricultural coalition — CARB concluded that large spark-ignited forklifts exceed federal ozone standards.

As part of the California Environmental Protection Agency, CARB reports directly to Governor Gavin Newsom’s office whose Executive Order N-79-20 prompted this regulation by ordering CARB and other State agencies to transition off-road vehicles and equipment to 100% zero emission by 2035 where feasible.

According to the CARB Staff presentation, the regulation on forklifts is necessary to meet the air quality standards by the deadlines outlined in the Clean Air Act, calling for the reduction of 2 tons per day of oxides of nitrogen and 0.2 tons per day of reactive organic gases.

Under the rule, the production or sale for use in California of Class IV and Class V LSI forklifts is prohibited beginning in 2026. Additionally, the use of spark-ignited forklifts by large fleets — 26 units or more — will begin phase-out in 2028. Smaller fleets will phase out starting in 2029.

One of the largest opponents of the regulation, the Western Propane Gas Association, explained that the economic impact of this will cost forklift owners and operators up to $27 billion. According to a press release from WPGA, unintended consequences of the rule will have a lasting economic effect across the state.

“CARB’s decision today to adopt this damaging regulation will lead to lost jobs, economic competitiveness, and still not achieve the goals that they expect,” Colin Sueyres, President and CEO of the Western Propane Gas Association said in a press release. “Organized labor, agriculture, small businesses, and community stakeholders have raised hundreds of concerns over the years on this rule that has gone unheeded. Instead, they have rejected any effort to achieve their very goals sooner through collaboration with those being regulated.”

The phase-out schedule is based on the model year and designed so that no forklift is required to be phased out before it is 10 years old. According to CARB, the regulation was developed through an extensive public process including public meetings, workshops, stakeholder input, and site visits. As a result, the regulation allows for certain compliance exemptions for special circumstances, including forklifts used in the field for agricultural or forest operations.

The California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association and Western Agricultural Processors Association have advocated on behalf of the agricultural industry since the proposed regulation was announced, and representatives spoke on behalf of agriculture during the hearing.

According to CCGGA President Roger Islom, they have been actively engaged with CARB on this regulation, and their final ask centered on the expansion of compliance dates for agricultural fleets from 25% to 20%.

“We’re simply asking for a 20% cap per compliance year to spread out the compliance over a few more years,” Islom said. “It does not get an exemption. It does not mean we won’t meet the dates that are the final rule. It simply gives us a little more time to meet the compliance period or the cost that we’re going to be facing because this rule will be costly.”

Priscilla Rodriguez, assistant vice president of the Western Agricultural Processors Association, echoed this request, explaining that as written, the proposal would require 100% of agriculture fleets to be converted over by the 2034 year. Rodriguez petitioned the board for a 20% compliance cap, providing an additional four years to reach compliance.

“The other thing that I want to note is ag operations do not have the ability to pass along the costs. Those costs affect our bottom line,” Rodriguez said. “We operate in a global market. The price is set. We can’t simply increase the price per pound of our almonds, our pistachios, our walnuts — that’s not the way it works.”

Extending the compliance date would allow for greater ease in consuming the costs of converting entire agricultural fleets without exceeding the 2038 compliance year deadline.

Another agricultural advocate representing the Agricultural Council of California, Jacob DeFant, requested the 20% phasing cap as well as a revised definition of “agricultural operations” to include retail nurseries

“Forklifts are an essential part of many farm and infield operations, and these forklifts have a distinct operational use primarily during our harvest seasons — many times only being used two or three months out of the year — and it’s important to acknowledge the unique demands and dynamics of that infield usage,” DeFant said.

Before the public hearing, the draft proposal placed a 25% cap on phase-out dates. A cap on the required percentage of forklifts to be phased out initially limits the burden on fleets with older forklifts, ensuring no more than 50% turnover for large fleets and no more than 25% for small and crop preparation services fleets by 2029.

Meaning, for example, a small fleet with 30-year-old forklifts would need to replace 25% by 2029 and the remainder by 2032. The regulation also includes exemptions and extensions for implementation challenges such as delivery delays, infrastructure construction delays, and issues with obtaining permits or landlord-tenant disputes.

The request to change the 25% cap on forklift turnover to a 20% cap, applying it to every compliance year rather than just the first would extend the time crop preparation services fleets have to replace their older forklifts.

However, CARB staff stated that the 25% cap for the first compliance was initially placed as a result of conversations with agriculture stakeholders and is believed to be subsequent time for a gradual phase-out. Currently, a small or agricultural fleet with older forklifts must replace 25% by January 1, 2029, with the remaining 75% due by 2032.

“We did have staff do some preliminary analysis to better understand the potential impacts of their request, and it turns out that it’s a pretty significant hit to the benefits that we would expect from this sector,” CARB staff said. “It’s about half of the benefits that we would’ve expected to see as a result of delaying the turnover of those forklifts based on their request. Earlier in the process, those stakeholders did ask for a cap on the turnover and so we did put on that cap the 25% in response to that initial request.”

CARB Chair, Liane M. Randolph proposed that the 2026-2028 period be used to assess the transition, equipment availability, and phase-out progress. Randolph recommended directing the executive officer to evaluate the rule’s implementation and propose any needed changes to the compliance schedule by 2028.

This suggestion was accepted, and CARB adopted the forklift regulation with this additional language.


In an effort to support producers throughout this costly transition to zero-emission forklifts, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District is accepting applications requesting monetary incentives to replace LSI forklifts with zero-emission replacement forklifts. 

Projects will be funded on a first-come-first-serve basis with incentive amounts calculated at a maximum of 80% of the eligible costs of a new forklift. Applicants are required to obtain approval and have a signed, executed contract from the SJVAPCD prior to purchasing new equipment as any equipment purchased prior to an executed contract is ineligible.  

Eligibility requirements include that forklifts must be domiciled within the SJV district and owned and operated for the past 24 months, Additionally, old forklifts must currently be in use, and maintain operational conditions until replaced.  

For additional eligibility and application information, visit the Zero-Emission Forklift Replacement Program website. 

Along with this SJV-specific program, CARB’s Clean Off-Road Equipment Voucher Incentive Project offers potential incentive amounts that fund vouchers used to purchase zero-emission off-road equipment such as forklifts, transport refrigeration units, construction and agricultural equipment, and terminal trucks. 

Possible incentive amounts include vouchers up to $500,000 and infrastructure enhancement up to $30,000 for large forklifts and agricultural equipment.  

The CARB incentive project is funded by the Air Pollution Control Fund and the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund — vehicle purchasers can contact approved dealers to submit a voucher request for eligible vehicles. 

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