CARB loaded: 40-year-old California environmental board comes of age

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer | 7/25/2007

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series by Staff Writer Charlie Morasch about CARB and its growing importance nationally and in trucking. Click here to read the second part of the series, which takes an in-depth look at CARB’s trucking-related regulations that will soon begin going into effect, and click here for the third part of the series, which dug deeper into the goings-on in the Golden State.

For more information on how California's new regs will affect APUs, click here.

Schwarzenegger empowers agency after summer controversy
“Start wide, expand further, and never look back.” – California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s honeymoon period after winning two races for governor is over. So is the notion that the beefed-up bodybuilder and actor will pull a Jesse “The Body” Ventura and leave after a quick taste of politics.

Photo: Courtesy/California Governor's Office

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, left, looks on as Mary Nichols speaks shortly after being introduced as the new chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board.

Instead, the Governator has gotten waist-deep into California’s biggest issues, while California’s most influential state agency has made waves nationally by toughening rules for commercial vehicles and four-wheelers alike.

Just this year that agency – the California Air Resources Board – tangled with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Big Three American automakers in a showdown about limiting greenhouse gas emissions. A dozen other states have indicated they’ll adopt California’s standard rather than rely on the EPA.

Schwarzenegger threatened to sue the federal government over the EPA’s reluctance to allow California to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Among environmentalists, however, Schwarzenegger came under fire after firing CARB Chairman Robert Sawyer in June. The termination came after some said Schwarzenegger tried to slow enactment of tougher emissions rules. That action was followed by the resignation of Catherine Witherspoon, another top agency executive.

Witherspoon told the California Assembly’s Natural Resources Committee that Schwarzenegger’s office meddled in many CARB affairs, including diesel emissions rules.

“The Administration’s internal dialogue has become completely one-sided and is contrary to his stated commitment to balance environmental and economic objectives,” Witherspoon told the Assembly panel. “For the past year, the pressure has been relentless and it has all run one way. Slow down. Do less. Go easier on industry.”

Schwarzenegger calmed the fears of many by appointing Mary Nichols to fill Sawyer’s post.

Nichols, a highly regarded environmental lawyer who previously chaired CARB from 1978 to 1983, told the California Senate Rules Committee in mid-July that she was prepared to guide CARB through tough emissions rules while navigating political pressures and concerns from industry.

“Bob Sawyer is an outstanding scientist but he didn’t have a relationship with the governor and he didn’t have an interest in the political side of the job,” Nichols told the Los Angeles Times. “The implementation of these laws is an intensely political activity as well as a technical one. If we can’t get the public to agree then we don’t have a program.”

In announcing Nichols’ appointment, Schwarzenegger pounded home CARB’s mission.

“When one out of six residents in the San Joaquin Valley has been diagnosed with asthma and one in five children carry an inhaler to school, it is a call to action,” Schwarzenegger said then. “The Air Resources Board must keep California on the path of cleaner air, particularly in areas with significant air quality issues such as the San Joaquin Valley, the South Coast and areas around our ports.”

CARB has come a long way as an agency since its 1967 founding under the guidance of then-Gov. Ronald Reagan.

Originally a merger of California’s Motor Vehicle Pollution Control Board and Bureau of Air Sanitation, the agency’s earliest actions included banning backyard burning in highly polluted areas in 1970, and the nation’s first limits to nitrogen oxide emissions from cars in 1971.

CARB now boasts a $300 million annual budget and 1,000 employees.

Many of CARB’s recent emissions actions were spurred by the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which mandated the state cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by the year 2020, according to the CARB Web site.

The California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 not only established a statewide target for greenhouse gas reductions by 2020, it also requires CARB to adopt a plan and individual measures to achieve the maximum technologically feasible and cost-effective reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

The act also gave CARB power to enforce ordinances and pursue fines for violators of laws restricting everything from vehicle emissions to after-market parts.

CARB is using that power.

Just last year, CARB wrote 1,992 citations, collected $6.7 million in penalties and inspected 17,000 heavy-duty vehicles to enforce emission laws. More than $1 million was collected from trucking-related companies.

Beginning in January 2008, truckers who enter the Golden State will have to deal with the first in a wave of new measures aimed at cutting smog, including strict new limits on diesel-powered APUs, limited idling and changes to reefers allowed in the state.