CARB critics say: Science behind diesel rules remains flawed
Agency spokesman, says CARB would be happy to go out of business, but first the air must be cleaned up

By Charlie Morasch
staff writer


Three years ago, the California Dump Truck Owners Association had 1,700 members – mostly small to mid-size trucking companies based in the Golden State.

The economic downturn and a series of expensive in-state emissions rules hit the group’s truckers hard in 2007 and 2008, dropping membership by half to its current 850 members.

Lee Brown, the CDTOA’s executive director, said several diesel regulations implemented by the California Air Resources Board have tipped the competitive playing field against CDTOA’s truck owners.

The same equipment that large motor carriers replace every few years is maintained longer by owner-operators and small trucking businesses, Brown said. Because CARB has implemented rules requiring more rapid engine and reefer replacement, a small trucking company’s competitive edge – its attention to maintenance and flexibility – is partially wiped out.

“CARB is like this agency with no oversight and unlimited power,” Brown said. “There isn’t one trucker in the U.S. that doesn’t want cleaner air. But everything comes at a cost. You can’t force the guy in the supply chain that can least afford it to become responsible for cleaning our air. We’re seeing a huge downward trend. It’s the perfect storm for these guys to go under.”

Brown said he wonders if CARB will ever stop creating regulations, no matter how much air quality improves.

CARB Spokesman Dimitri Stanich disagreed.

“We’d be happy to go out of business if we attained clean air,” Stanich told Land Line. “We create regulations in order to clean up the air because we still haven’t met the federal standard for clean air.

“If we don’t meet those standards, then we will be penalized with a reduction in federal transportation funds. So yes, the air is cleaner than it has been in a very long time, but we still fail and fall short of meeting the federal definition of clean air.”

CARB has pursued reductions of pollutants through rules for many sources, including commercial diesel trucks. As tough as idling, port and reefer rules have been on truckers, CARB’s most expensive rules to date have yet to be fully approved.

CARB is scheduled to approve its on-road truck and bus rule in December.

Critics, including UCLA Research Professor Dr. James Enstrom and the CDTOA, say original research behind the rule that was discredited after a scandal at CARB has been replaced by an EPA review of similar studies. The review examined several California studies that the CDTOA and Enstrom say did not show a strong relationship between diesel particulate matter and early mortality.

The EPA’s review examined whether particulate matter as a whole – including dust, smoke from forest fire and other sources – affect mortality. Rather than directly tie diesel to the mortality question, the CDTOA says, the EPA review looked at particulate matter and separately stated that diesel exhaust is “known to have many, many different types of compounds within it that are carcinogenic.”

“The word diesel is used three times in the whole report,” Brown said. “They have been caught with their pants down with the science – because those reports individually show there is no correlation between diesel and premature deaths, at least in California. Yet they’re trying to say this EPA review justifies all these regulations.”

Linda Smith, chief of CARB’s health impacts section, said CARB staff chose to apply the EPA’s review of particulate matter to the on-road truck and bus rule because the EPA’s research took a more comprehensive approach than numerous California-based studies.

“We do feel that EPA actually evaluated all the research in a very comprehensive way, and it was a very recent review, and it included all of the California-specific studies,” Smith said.

Diesel makes up about 10 percent of the total particulate load in California, Smith said.

“You’re down to 10 percent. Even if they stopped all diesel in California, they would only drop PM by 10 percent,” Enstrom said. “But that wouldn’t lead to the prevention of any premature deaths – because there is no link between diesel and premature deaths.”

Stanich disagrees.

“Diesel PM is a toxic air contaminant, which is a classification for compounds known to contribute to serious health threats, including but not limited to premature death,” Stanich said in an e-mail.

“The federal EPA has formally recognized fine PM as having a causal relationship to premature death. Diesel PM alone contributes more than 70 percent of the airborne carcinogens in CA air,” Stanich wrote.

“Research has shown that though trucking industry (workers) are generally more healthy than the general population, they endure more cardiopulmonary disease due to their exposure to diesel exhaust. Though some may dismiss these findings as a minimal risk, ARB is required by law to minimize this threat to public health.”

The back and forth seems to never end, yet the stakes are high. Before the latest revision of the on-road truck and bus regulation, CARB had estimated complying with the rule would cost trucking companies $10 billion.

Enstrom told Land Line he isn’t aware of a single epidemiologist with a Ph.D. among CARB’s employees, something he says is imperative if the agency is going to blame portions of the transportation industry for early mortality.

Smith said CARB has two such epidemiologists, though CARB did not respond to a request to name those individuals.

Momentum changing?
Political pressure and recent CARB news may signal a momentum shift, even as new diesel rules are enacted.

In September, CARB revised its truck and bus rule and said it will cost trucking companies less than previous versions, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger enacted a law requiring CARB to explain its fines.

Brown is hopeful CDTOA’s membership will rebound.

The organization was founded in 1941, has seen its share of wars, recessions and several generations of California air regulators.

“We’ll see,” said Brown. “I think people will be hearing these small-business people for the first time in a long time.” LL