EPA takes notes on OOIDA concerns

By Sandi Soendker, Land Line editor-in-chief | 10/13/2014

GRAIN VALLEY, MO -- At the OOIDA Board of Directors meeting last week at Association headquarters, two government reps from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency got an earful from small-business truckers. Members of the board, frustrated with the overload of emissions technology, told the EPA that while everyone wants clean air, the agency’s regs were more than their segment of the industry can bear.

Earlier this year, the current administration in Washington, D.C., ordered the EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation to create a proposal for new fuel efficiency and greenhouse standards for trucks by the end of March 2015. The direction will cover medium and heavy-duty trucks.

Sandi Soendker

Board Member Lewie Pugh, Freeport, Ohio, holds up a 7-foot printout from the dealership that works on his truck.

“We know that it’s the manufacturers’ responsibility to make the equipment to accomplish that, but it is the EPA that sets the rules. And it’s setting them at a pace that does not allow for enough time to road test the equipment,” said OOIDA President and CEO Jim Johnston. “This results in expensive repairs and time-consuming breakdowns that are wrecking profit margins and interfering with operations.”

The EPA guests who were scribbling notes to take back to D.C. were Bill Charmley and Matt Spears of the EPA Office of Transportation and Air Quality. Charmley and Spears are highly involved in setting emission standards for all mobile sources in the U.S. as well as regulating gasoline and diesel fuel properties related to air.

Charmley told the OOIDA Board that he and Spears were in Grain Valley for the board meeting to hear member concerns.

“Here’s the gist of it,” said Board Member Bryan Spoon of Grandy, N.C. “There’s no time to figure out the standards, to see what works, and how to fix it before the government is putting out new rules.”

Board Member Steve Bixler, Valley View, Pa., said small-business truckers were hardest hit by the unreliability of the trucks with newly developed technology. “When you are a one-truck business, being down for repair is a real problem. And failures with this technology can keep a truck in the shop all the time. Fleets on the other hand, aren’t running all their trucks at the same time and they have the ability to simply pull another truck out while one truck is down.”

“When you are developing these rules, you must keep in mind,” Bixler told the EPA, “that most of the freight is moved by small-business trucking operations, not the big companies.”

Board Member Leo Wilkins of St. Charles, Mich., said owner-operators just can’t afford the $25,000 overhauls they are seeing on these trucks with the new emissions technology.

Holding up a 7-foot-long printout of everything that had gone wrong with his truck since he bought it in November 2011 and through April of this year, Board Member Lewie Pugh, Freeport, Ohio, said repairing the emission breakdowns is a “guessing game.”

“When the truck breaks down, the mechanics don’t even know what’s wrong. They don’t know how to work on them. The dealership I go to is packed with trucks with emission problems.”

Pugh told the EPA officials that he paid an $8,000 “EPA” charge when he bought the truck. The fee was part of the price of the truck.

“If this truck is putting out emissions that are cleaner than the air, like they say it is, then I should be paid that $8,000.”

Board Member Johanne Couture, Brockway, Ontario, is ticked off by the astronomical price of parts and repair of emissions technology. Couture has a 2011 Volvo that recently blew a turbo in Springfield, Ill. It took so long to get fixed, she rented a car and drove home to Ontario, then back to pick up her truck when it was done.

“The turbo had to be replaced, along with the air-to-air and the whole DPF assembly,” said Couture. “It was 10 days to get the DPF assembly because they are so short of these parts. I lost the load, had three weeks downtime and a shop bill of $18,000. This could put most owner-operators out of business.”

Couture was also concerned about the DEF freezing in Ontario and northern climates, leaving drivers stranded on the Trans-Canada Highway at minus 35 degrees in a remote place with no cell service. In addition, board members asked why the regen process had to “shut the truck down.”

“It’s dangerous if you are running in the U.S. or Canada where there is no one on the roads and no cell service,” said Couture. “Trucks don’t all run on urban interstates.”

Other board members voiced concerns with the push for trucks to be equipped with SmartWay aerodynamic equipment like low-rolling-resistance tires, or wide singles.

“I am from Colorado. I run the mountains,” said Board Member Jack McComb, Littleton, Colo. “I need traction. Forcing me to run wide tires doesn’t make sense for all of us. Remember that when you are making the rules.”

Board members and other OOIDA members at the meeting shared dozens of comments, opinions and personal experiences with Charmley and Spears.

“I know EPA thinks the manufacturers were capable of the emissions technology the agency demanded,” said Bryan Spoon, following the listening session. “But we know the answer to that: They didn’t. I think the engine makers proceeded, scared of more huge fines.”

“All this equipment we are forced to have on our trucks, it’s experimental,” said Spoon. “We feel like lab rats.”

OOIDA Director of Regulatory Affairs Scott Grenerth summed it up.

“I think it’s accurate to say that the OOIDA Board contributed more expert, real-life input to the EPA in one afternoon than in any other stage in the process of creating these rules.”

Grenerth said EPA will be continuing their engagement with OOIDA on a monthly basis.

“We will be doing that via conference calls and possibly additional get-togethers,” he said.

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