SPECIAL REPORT: CARB clamps down on trucking in California

| 12/12/2008

Friday, Dec. 12, 2008 – The California Air Resources Board approved two major trucking regulations on Friday, including the most restrictive truck rule approved in the nation’s history.

The agency approved its statewide on-road in-use truck and bus rule, which essentially requires trucks in fleets with one to three trucks operating in the state, regardless of where they are base plated, to have diesel particulate filters on 2004 or newer engine model year trucks by 2014, and 2007 emissions level trucks by 2019.

Also approved was the state’s version of the EPA’s SmartWay program, which requires a combination of fairings, low-rolling resistance tires or other devices aimed at cutting emissions by improving efficiency.

The passage of the rules was met with disappointment at OOIDA, which discussed the proposed truck rules with CARB officials on several occasions during the multiyear rule development process. OOIDA officials expressed concerns that the proposed truck regulations put small-business truck operations at a competitive disadvantage with large motor carriers.

“The statewide truck and bus regulation will undoubtedly push many small-business motor carriers and owner-operators out of business,” said Joe Rajkovacz, OOIDA’s regulatory affairs specialist, who pointed out that CARB’s statistics show more long-haul drivers who visit California from out of state drive newer trucks than in-state drivers.

Discussion of the on-road retrofit rule and the EPA SmartWay rule lasted for much of the two-day meeting on Thursday and Friday.

The retrofit rule
The retrofit rule would require trucks to meet 2007 and 2010 emissions standards between 2012 and 2022, although it allows for a series of compliance options. The regulation addresses both diesel particulate matter and oxides of nitrogen.

Fleets of up to three vehicles are exempt from the rule’s engine performance requirements in 2010 and 2011. That means that by the end of 2013 one truck from those small companies must be at least a 2004 model (with diesel particulate filter) in order to comply with 2007 emissions standards. Additional emissions standards depend on the number of trucks in the fleet. Details can be found at www.arb.ca.gov.

A company with three or fewer trucks would then upgrade engines for the rest of its trucks between 2014 and 2022.

Before the plan was discussed, Mary Nichols, CARB chairman, acknowledged the heavy cost to private businesses during the recent economic crisis of the two rules.

“Implementing the regulations will require a substantial investment on behalf of the many businesses that will be affected,” Nichols said. “We know that today’s economy is in a slump. “But we also know that we have to keep in mind that the first enforcement will not occur until 2010, and we hope that any recovery is well under way at that time.”

CARB estimates it will cost the trucking industry approximately $5.5 billion to fully comply with the retrofit rule.

Nichols said CARB wants to increase its funding support for truck replacement grants and loans beyond the current $1 billion. The current loan/grant program does not include funding for out-of-state trucks, which are subject to the regulation.

CARB’s $1 billion in grants and loans isn’t enough to help small-business truckers, Rajkovacz said.

“While ARB says they believe that supplying financial assistance to in-state motor carriers will soften the blow of this regulation, there is simply not enough money to go around, particularly when one considers that California’s state government is running ‘hat in hand’ to Washington D.C. for its own bail-out.

“There will be winners, but many more losers,” he said. “Long-haul interstate truckers based outside of California will be expected to comply with the regulation on their own dime.”

In Sacramento on Thursday and Friday, more than 150 individuals signed up to make public comments before the board about its retrofit rule, spurring Nichols to ask the public to keep repetitive statements to a minimum.

Several owner-operators and construction companies said the rule’s heavy expense to small businesses would hurt California’s economy. Environmentalists made impassioned pleas to implement the rule as soon as possible, while several truckers said they were personally offended at being blamed for California’s dirty air.

Dennis Downing of Apple Valley, CA, said he’s part of a three-generation trucking family that is concerned whether they’ll be able to stay in business because of the rule’s ban of old trucks.

“We are truckers, but we are also Californians, and we want clean air, too,” Downing said.

One driver was cut off in mid-sentence by Nichols when his time ran out, who said simply, “You’re through.”

Carol Pruitt, whose husband still works as an owner-operator, said the couple already had to sell her truck when the economy soured during this past year. Her husband was dismayed to find out he’ll have to upgrade his 2004-year engine model truck.

Pruitt said CARB’s study looking at the cancer-causing effects of diesel particulate matter among truck drivers may have overlooked an important characteristic.

“Everyone is always blaming the trucks or truckers. But how many of the 31,000 Teamsters in the survey are smokers or former smokers?” Pruitt asked.

The greenhouse gas rule essentially requires truck owners to install a number of after-market products certified by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Smart Way program.

SmartWay is a voluntary program that encourages companies to use SmartWay-certified and approved products designed to be diesel efficient. The products include trucks and trailers designed to be aerodynamic, and after-market kits for fairings and side skirts.

CARB’s greenhouse gas regulation allows fleets and companies to mix and match certain SmartWay options to be diesel efficient.

The greenhouse gas regulation applies to drivers, company owners, motor carriers and California-based “businesses that ship or receive freight” in 53-foot or longer box trailers.

The proposed greenhouse gas reduction measure exempts local-haul businesses that operate within 100 miles of company headquarters or that don’t exceed 50,000 miles driven per year; emergency vehicles; and drayage tractors that stay within 100 miles of a port or yard.

More information on the greenhouse gas rule is available at http://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/hdghg/hdghg.htm.

OOIDA criticized the SmartWay program in comments the Association submitted to CARB this week.

“This particular proposed regulation piles on an already reeling industry without a meaningful real world cost-benefit analysis and is viewed odiously by many stakeholders because of the degree to which it attempts to micromanage business decisions better left to motor carriers and owner-operators themselves,” read the comments by Jim Johnston, OOIDA’s President and CEO.

California has special authority granted by the Clean Air Act to enact air quality rules that are tougher than federal regulations. In addition, other states can adopt CARB rules by referendum.

On Thursday, CARB approved a comprehensive scoping plan to implement cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by a host of aggressive new regulations including:

  • A carbon tax credit-based system to allow businesses a certain level of greenhouse gas emissions, creating a marketplace for buying and selling of credits by businesses that have either surpluses or deficits of allowed emissions.
  • Requiring local governments to crack down on urban sprawl.
  • New fees for water and other emissions-creating products.

Commenting on CARB’s “scoping” plan, board member Daniel Sperling noted the agency’s power in affecting change, and competition within industries.

CARB should take care in its implementation of carbon tax credits and cap and trade systems, Sperling said. “Otherwise, we’re talking about government picking winners.”

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer