After courtroom setback, CARB gets OK to enforce onboard diagnostics

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer | 12/2/2014

California does have the right to regulate old onboard diagnostic systems to make sure they’re correctly stopping over-the-road trucks from exceeding state emissions limits, one legal panel has ruled.

The ruling comes as the California Air Resources Board shifts its influence from creating new engine emissions limits to stopping older trucks from over-polluting in the Golden State. CARB recently hinted it would leverage the billion dollar agency’s clout to try and gain additional legal authority to require truck manufacturers to be more responsive to slipping emissions systems and warranty problems from existing trucks.

On Monday, the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento reportedly reversed Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne W.L. Chang’s decision that CARB cannot require truck engine makers to submit emissions samples of trucks with older onboard diagnostic equipment. In a lawsuit brought by the Chicago-based Engine Manufacturers Association, plaintiffs argued the regulation exceeded CARB’s authority – a contention Judge Chang agreed with.

CARB’s regulations call for the air quality agency to be able to order recalls and engine repairs for trucks with low-performing onboard diagnostic systems.

The 3rd District’s three-judge panel, the Sacramento Bee reported, overruled Chang and ordered her ruling to be reversed.

CARB has run roadside smoke opacity tests for years on diesel trucks. Recent developments by the air quality agency have signaled a movement toward enforcement of existing trucks by newer technological means.

During CARB’s monthly board meeting in October, Chairman Mary Nichols and other board members watched CARB staff highlight recent news that cancer risk tied to truck emissions had dropped by 50 percent between 2005 and 2012 in the state’s south coast district.

Despite the improvement, staff members were disappointed by what they found in further research of truck emissions.

Though new trucks meet emissions standards when they first hit the pavement, CARB said during the Oct. 25 meeting, many are not performing to optimum efficiency or emissions standards after they’ve been on the road for a while.

Further investigation of 1,000 California-based truck maintenance records and warranty repairs revealed problems far exceeding CARB expectations, said CARB Deputy Executive Officer Alberto Ayala.

“When you have one of those components not working as designed, that problem can be manifested as a ‘filter problem,’” Ayala said. “Really, to sum up from our staff’s perspective, what we are uncovering is an uncomfortably high number of warranty claims and issues with components and engines that really should be a lot more durable. That’s what we’re trying to point to here – that we really should be expecting a higher level of quality in terms of the products that are put on the market. And the reports that we’re looking at are not suggesting that we have that high level of quality.”

Many trucks showed one engine warranty claim per engine – a rate much higher than car manufacturers, CARB staffers said in October. Additionally, many warranties existed only for the truck’s first 100,000 miles though many trucks ran for 800,000 miles on the same engine.

CARB hinted at its desire to hold manufacturers responsible for ensuring their trucks operate closer to the efficiencies and emissions standards they met while rolling off factory assembly lines.

“I don’t think staff is adding anything new here but they’re looking to expand their jurisdiction in this area to some degree,” Nichols said in October. “We need to expand legislation in this area, frankly.”

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