SPECIAL REPORT: CARB to redo ‘stained’ report, mulls truck/bus delay

| 12/10/2009

Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009 – The California Air Resources Board will take a mulligan on its tainted research behind its mammoth Truck and Bus Rule, and may extend some of the rule’s enforcement options.

CARB directed staff to re-research and write a report on diesel truck emissions and particulate matter. The report has been criticized by several board members after the report’s main researcher and statistician was proven to have lied about his education.

Written under the authority of Assembly Bill 32 – the 2006 law that addresses global warming – the truck and bus rule requires trucking fleets to acquire diesel particulate matter filters and upgrade their truck engines beginning in 2012. Most small trucking businesses, including fleets of one to three trucks, will be exempt until 2014.

CARB staff will also look for any way the agency can be flexible on enforcement.

Several top CARB officials, including CARB Chairman Mary Nichols, knew a year ago that Hien Tran, the team leader and researcher on diesel pollution fatalities, was a fraud and hadn’t earned the Ph.D. he claimed on his resume.

On Wednesday, Nichols characterized Tran’s actions as a “stain” on the research he produced for the Truck and Bus Rule. The board agreed to withdraw and redo Tran’s report, as well as come up with a new provision to the Truck and Bus Rule to provide “truck fleets more flexibility in cleaning up” diesel emissions.

Tran reportedly confessed on Dec. 10, one day before CARB’s December 2008 board meeting began and two days before the board approved its most expensive truck rule to date. The Truck and Bus Rule requires commercial trucks and buses to use diesel particulate filters and new engines on California roads and highways.

Joe Rajkovacz, OOIDA director of regulatory affairs, watched Wednesday’s monthly CARB meeting.

Rajkovacz noted the difference between Nichols’ description of Tran as one of several collaborators on CARB research and Board Member John Telles description of Tran as writing the majority of CARB’s report.

“It is the height of arrogance to try and claim that Tran was some sort of bit player,” Rajkovacz said. “They used self-righteousness over real science to approve this rulemaking. That’s dangerous.”

As a result, Rajkovacz said the Truck and Bus Rule will “likely kill many small businesses.”

“They essentially used the rule to throw a bunch of truckers out of their jobs,” Rajkovacz said. “Implementing this rule in a depressed economy is the ultimate death of reason and logic.”

Telles motioned that the board repeal the Truck and Bus Rule because of Tran’s misconduct and the lack of shared information from Nichols and other officials on the matter.

The motion was not seconded.

Before Wednesday’s board meeting, CARB staff said dozens of individuals had signed up to give testimony on the Truck and Bus Rule. Witnesses included many trucking business owners and truck vendors who pleaded for an extension of the rule.

Among other reasons, truck owners mentioned the worsening economy and the Truck and Bus Rule’s deflating of motor carrier’s main assets – their own used trucks – as reasons why CARB should delay enforcement of the rule.

Banks aren’t willing to loan money necessary to replace entire fleets, they said.

“We bought and built these trucks under your standards,” said William Minor Junior, who owns a tow company in California. “Now you’re telling us ‘they don’t meet our standards anymore’? What are we doing shooting ourselves in the foot here? Work with us.”

Jay McKeeman of the California Independent Oil Marketers Association said CARB should examine any potential other options for meeting air quality standards under the federal Clean Air Act.

“It may be that the state has to look at the federal government in the eye and say, ‘We cannot do this. The people that are obligated to do this cannot afford this regulation,’ ” McKeeman said. If that’s the case, I hope the state is the one that’s looking the federal government in the eye. If it’s not the state, the truckers will look the federal government in the eye and there will be civil disobedience. I guarantee that.”

Nichols refuted claims of some witnesses, and eventually asked the packed audience to refrain from cheering in favor of raising their arms in a silent show of support.

“We’ve heard rumors that there would be demonstrations, people making threats, attacking staff and attacking others,” Nichols said. “I’d appreciate it if you don’t do that.”

The background

According to e-mails posted here, a CARB board member unearthed the scandal that top agency officials had managed to keep quiet for more than a year by asking Nichols and other CARB board members about the research and qualifications of agency employee Hien T. Tran.

In e-mails sent between CARB board members, Nichols and a head of the California EPA, Tran was revealed to not have a degree. The agency and state officials defended him even though he was later disciplined internally.

CARB’s Truck and Bus rule was approved partly because of Tran’s research in the report, “Methodology for Estimating Premature Death Associated with Long-Term Exposure to Find Airborne Particulate matter in California.” In the report, Tran falsely claimed that he had a Ph.D. in statistics from The University of California at Davis.

Nichols and CARB staff acknowledged mandatory emissions threshold California must meet under the Clean Air Act. CARB had calculated the truck and bus rule’s hard line in 2014 as one way the state would meet the requirements.

Nichols said any potential delay for enforcement of the Truck and Bus rule beyond 2014 would need intervention from U.S. Congress. Several audience members called on CARB to request an amendment to the Clean Air Act in order to provide trucking companies with more time to upgrade equipment.

CARB’s estimates have placed the rule’s cost impact on the transportation industry at between $6 billion and $10 billion.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer