By Aaron Ladage
A controversial rulemaking being considered by the Environmental Protection Agency would have devastating consequences for truckers nationwide who pull reefers into California, according to officials in the trucking industry.
The new standards proposed by the California Air Resources Board - or CARB - would require transport refrigeration units, also known as reefers or TRUs, to meet stricter performance and emissions standards before they could be used in the state.
The comment period closed on Feb. 6. The EPA has not indicated when a final decision will be made.
If the rule is enacted, all trucks pulling reefers within California - regardless of whether the truck is baseplated there - would be required to meet the tighter standards. For 2001 model year and older units, the standards would have to be met by 2008; for 2002 models and newer, the deadline would be 2009.
Reefer units with less than a 25-horsepower engine would have to be certified at 0.30 gallons per horsepower-hour, and units with more than a 25-horsepower engine would have to be certified at 0.22 gallons per horsepower-hour, according to CARB documents. Emissions on 2001 and older units must be reduced by 50 percent, while 2002 and newer units must reduce emissions by 85 percent.
If a truck's reefer does not meet the new requirements, CARB proposes that the owner be required to either replace or retrofit the unit before it can be used in California. That has an estimated cost to the truck owner of $2,000 to $20,000.
The new requirements were met with staunch criticism by owner-operators, fleet owners and trucking industry groups alike.
In comments filed with the EPA, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said the move would be a financial hardship for small-business truckers, especially those who live out of state and/or don't regularly haul loads in California.
"The standards, which impose an unwarranted burden on all out-of-state TRU owners and operators, place a particularly onerous financial burden on small-business truckers," said OOIDA President and CEO Jim Johnston in the Association's comments.
"Small fleet owners with 20 or fewer trucks make up approximately 95 percent of the industry. Further, these small-business truckers typically operate on small profit margins without any extra equipment, a situation that would not allow them to segregate equipment for California and non-California operations."
In a survey, more than two-thirds of OOIDA members who haul refrigerated loads said they bought used reefer equipment because of high equipment costs, making CARB's proposed standards difficult to meet.
"Having made the purchase, these owner-operators and small fleet owners are not likely to replace refrigerated trailers as often as larger operations," Johnston said. "As recognized by the CARB, some TRUs are in use for 20 or even 30 years. Thus the additional financial burdens of early replacement could be prohibitive for this group of TRU owners and operators."
Additionally, Johnston said CARB's data-collecting method, which found that only 7,500 reefer units used in the state are from outside California, is flawed, because it assumes that this number does not adjust for the total number of individual reefers entering the state each year.
In fact, a similar survey by the ATA found the actual number of out-of-state reefers that operate in California each year is about 223,000 - almost 30 times CARB's estimate. ATA also filed comments opposing the proposal.
"For any significant motor carrier or trailer leasing operation, economic necessity dictates that each TRU truck van and semi-trailer in the fleet be able to service any potential destination," ATA said in its comments.
"Otherwise, a unit dropping off a load in Kansas City, for example, would not be eligible to carry the next load waiting there, and instead may have to drive hundreds of miles to find another load, while a California-eligible unit would have to drive a significant distance unloaded to pick up the Kansas City freight.
"The model assumed by CARB, without any analysis or empirical support, is directly at odds with the business model described in these comments that is used by the trucking industry to respond to the market demand for goods and services."