California Truckers Feel Suffocated By Clean Air Rules

by Jana Ritter - Published: 9/25/2013

Truck operators in California are complaining that several new rules issued by the state's Air Resources Board (CARB) are either too costly or impossible to comply with, given current engine and fuel technology.

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CARB is phasing in a requirement that all trucks manufactured between 2000 and 2004, with gross weight of more than 26,000 pounds, be fitted with diesel particulate filters (DPFs). The devices trap soot, ash and toxic metals, cutting down on noxious emissions. Vehicles that fail to comply with the rule will be banned from operating in California, with violators subject to fines ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 a day.

Truckers claim that the filters don't integrate well with older vehicle models. They have been known to shut down engines and result in increased equipment downtime, said Michael Shaw, spokesman for the California Trucking Association (CTA).

Erik White, chief of the agency’s Mobile Source Operations Division argues that in cases where a filter causes engine shutdown, the reason is nearly always the failure of truck operators to follow the manufacturer’s maintenance procedures, said. “When we follow up, and they incorporate those changes into their practices, we don’t see repeat problems,” he said.

But Shaw says the filter retrofits “are not going to be a long-term viable option.” What CARB really wants is for truckers to scrap their older models and buy newer, cleaner-burning vehicles. In the meantime, operators are faced with a cost of $15,000 or more for each filter installed on an existing unit. Many older trucks aren’t worth more than that. CTA estimates industry’s total cost of compliance at $1 billion a year.

The CARB rules come with several financing mechanisms to help truck owner-operators pay for the retrofits, including both outright grants and loan guarantees. Passage of state Proposition 1B in 2008 made available money for the purchase of cleaner trucks. Another measure earmarked $10 million in loan guarantees, and White said CARB is recommending that the state invest an additional $8 million to extend funding through the end of the year. “We will see an extension of the program,” said Shaw, “but more needs to be done.”

The trucking industry is also upset over CARB’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) program, which requires operators to incorporate into their vehicles a set percentage of biodiesel fuels. Shaw said the standard “far exceeds the technological capability of engines we have in the fleet today. Currently, even the most modern engines cannot deal with more than a level of 20-percent biodiesel.” What’s more, he said, the use of biodiesel fuel at CARB-mandated levels would violate manufacturer warranties.

CARB refutes industry claims that there aren’t enough alternative fuels to meet the LCFS. “These assertions tend to overlook the existence of low-carbon-intensity natural gas and electricity as fuel sources,” the agency said in a statement. In addition, CARB said, industry is dramatically under-estimating the amount of biodiesel that can be produced, while ignoring the growth of low-carbon sources such as corn oil and waste oil.

“In short,” said CARB, “these negative predictions generally assume there will be no technological development and investment in alternative fuels, which is an assumption already being proved wrong.”