Regulators, mount up: EPA, CARB mark CA rule's first fed enforcement

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer | 10/8/2015

The two most powerful truck emission enforcers on the planet combined forces Thursday, Oct. 8, to announce emission violations enforced in a new way.

The California Air Resources Board routinely announces violations of the state’s Truck and Bus Rule and other rules with short announcements online.

On Thursday, however, CARB joined with the Environmental Protection Agency for a teleconference to announce hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for a national trucking company that didn’t install DPFs for 73 trucks.

Estes Express Lines, headquartered in Richmond, Va., has been fined $100,000 and will pay $255,000 in other fees in addition to upgrading all 73 of the company’s trucks that operate in California. Besides not upgrading its own trucks, emission investigators found the company had subbed out freight to eight other companies without ensuring that the trucks used were CARB compliant.

The company, which makes more than $1 billion in gross income annually, has decided to replace its entire California fleet with new trucks.

EPA Region 9 Administrator Jared Blumenfeld, said the federal government is allowed to enforce California emissions rules under authority granted in the Clean Air Act. The act requires California air regulations to be submitted to EPA as part of CARB’s State Implementation Plan.

“Once they go into the Federal Register and are approved, they become enforceable,” Blumenfeld said.

Truck owners aren’t likely to see a barrage of enforcement efforts by federal regulators concerning California emissions rules.

“There’s not many cases like this that involve interstate issues,” Blumenfeld said. “This particular case involved trucks from outside the state coming in. California doesn’t have the authority to enforce jurisdictionally that we do. That’s why you don’t see very much of this.”

The Truck and Bus Rule, estimated to cost billions, requires either a diesel particulate filter be installed for 2010 or newer trucks for most companies that operate in the state. The rule has cornered many small and medium size trucking firms that operate occasionally in the state but either can’t afford, or don’t want to risk, required upgrades to their trucks.

Foes of the rule include the Alliance for California Business, which has sued CARB to stop requirements of DPFs until their safety can be proven. The group has pointed to a number of truck fires that may have been sparked by DPF technology.

Seizing on a divide in the trucking community between companies who have paid to comply and truck owners who have not, CARB leaders have cast the agency as an arbitrator implementing justice between the two camps.

“Many trucking companies have invested tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars to comply,” CARB Enforcement Chief Todd Sax said. “Their efforts are important,” he said, adding CARB wants to “produce a level playing field for these companies” by requiring all companies to comply.

“Region 9 (EPA)’s efforts sends a strong message to out-of-state trucking companies – even ones not based in California – that they must meet California air regulations,” Sax said.

Of the estimated 1 million trucks that operate in California every year, about 625,000 are registered out of state, CARB said Thursday.

The use of EPA gives California an enforcement tool to drive other companies into compliance. It’s a tool that will be used again, the two regulators said.

Investigations concerning other out-of-state trucking companies are underway, Blumenfeld said, with letters sent recently to a dozen other out-of-state trucking companies with compliance issues similar to Estes Express Lines.

“If the company doesn’t comply or provides erroneous information, the federal government can impose sanctions,” he said.

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