- Special to The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2013

California rang in the New Year by placing certain truck engines, trailers, tires and even entire vehicles on its environmental out list — requiring motor carriers to spend tens of thousands of dollars on new equipment that may never meet the state’s ambitious objectives.

The new rules apply to trucks registered in other states — and even other countries.

“The state is forcing certain trucking companies and operators to make investments that are going to add cost with no return with regard to fuel efficiency, and therefore no impact on their desired policy operative,” said Steve Laskowski, senior vice president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.

The regulations are part of the California Statewide Truck and Bus Rule, actually a lengthy set of rules on a staggering enforcement schedule approved by the California Air Resources Board in 2008.

The new regulations affect about 1 million trucks, according to Karen Caesar, information officer for CARB.

Trucks and buses weighing more than 13 tons with engines built from 2002 to 2004 must upgrade their equipment or install diesel soot filters.

Similarly, school buses, utility vehicles and government-owned trucks and buses greater than 7 tons must “retrofit with the best available ARB-verified” soot filters or be upgraded.

Owners of transportation refrigeration trucks with engines built before 2006 had to replace or upgrade those engines by Dec. 31.

Beginning Jan. 1, older-model tractors that pull trailers at least 53 feet long must be equipped with tires with low rolling resistance. All sleeper-cab tractors and trailers built after 2010 must have aerodynamic devices such as side skirts.

Ms. Caesar said the rules are important to protect Californians from the toxins found in diesel exhaust, which the California Scientific Review Panel found to cause cancer in 1998. She said the toxins are also associated with asthma and other respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

Mr. Laskowski said that while he appreciates California’s efforts to guard the public’s health, complying with the rules is just not financially possible under current economic conditions.

CARB’s new emissions rules could raise state gas prices by $2.22 a gallon by 2020 — a 50 percent increase, according to a California Trucking Association study published in April. The study also found that the rules could cost California more than 600,000 jobs, $68.5 billion in Gross Domestic Product and $21.7 billion in lost income between 2015 and 2020.

Meeting the standards will cost the trucking industry $1 billion a year, according to Mike Shaw, spokesman for the California Trucking Association.

Robert McClernon, former president of the California Construction Trucking Association, said the regulations will force 60 percent of small trucking businesses to close In California. About 40 percent of the state’s small trucking companies have closed since 2011, he told The Washington Times in an interview.

He closed his own McClernon Trucking last year — after 35 years in business — because he could not afford to replace his trucks.

As for the trucks that only required new diesel filters, Mr. McClernon said it didn’t make financial sense to invest in upgrades for trucks that CARB rules would require him to replace in a few years anyway.

Furthermore, simply requiring a certain type of equipment doesn’t mean truckers will automatically be able to buy it. Many trailers simply cannot be retrofitted with the technology the new rules require, Mr. Laskowski said.

“You’re asking carriers to make decisions on pieces of equipment that they would have no knowledge of, and it’s a very immature market,” he said.

Mr. Lakowski said California’s rules will also complicate tire purchases, especially for Canadian truckers.

The new regulations mandate low rolling resistance tires to reduce fuel emissions. In the United States, he explained, tires are required to be rated on emissions as well as performance under certain road conditions. No such requirement exists in Canada.

“What we’re saying is you’ve changed it, you’re demanding that we use it, so therefore you should make sure from a safety perspective — all weather conditions — that this works,” Mr. Lakowski said. “Don’t force us into an experiment.”

But, he said, conducting expensive experiments is exactly what Canada had to do to prepare for California’s new regulations. As truckers suspected, many of the mandated tire types were unsafe under some weather conditions in Canada.

CARB claims in its economic analysis that its new rules will save the trucking industry more than $3 billion in fuel costs. It also estimates that its clean air  regulations will cut diesel particulate matter emissions 40 percent by 2014, and 70 percent by 2020.

But the trucking industry isn’t so sure.

To explain those doubts, Mr. Shaw referred to research cited in California Senate Bill 1507. According to the bill, CARB’s formula for calculating the environmental benefits of adding side skirts to trailers assumes that trucks are driving 62.5 mph 84 percent of the time.

But the maximum legal speed for trucks in California is 55 mph.

“The ARB assumed we’re breaking the rules 84 percent of the time, and that’s offensive for an industry that prides itself on safety,” Mr. Shaw said.

Considering the amount of time truckers spend driving through congested areas such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, “the actual time spent driving at freeway speed is about 40 percent, if we’re being generous,” he said.

For smaller companies like McClernon Trucking, however, that amount of time is even smaller: Mr. McClernon estimated that his trucks operate on freeways only 5 percent of the time.

Despite industry concerns, California is going full speed ahead with its plan — especially in terms of enforcement.

Trucks now face inspection pretty much anywhere in the state, according to the CARB website: California Highway Patrol weigh stations, distribution centers, fleet facilities, truck stops, and random roadside locations. CARB also plans to check for compliance through electronic audits of truck fleets.

Noncompliant vehicles face a minimum monthly penalty of $1,000 per violation — and could be impounded.

The CCTA filed suit to stop the regulations, arguing that the rules were preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Act, which bans state regulations that would affect the “prices, routes, or services” of motor carriers.

But the federal Environmental Protection Agency approved the California rules before the truckers got their day in court.

Ms. Caesar said California has a “unique relationship with the EPA” because of the state’s persistently poor air quality. She said the state’s high number of cars on the road, as well as its busy ports, pose challenges to air cleanliness that other states do not face. When the American Lung Association ranks cities with the worst air quality, she said, “three of them are usually in California.”

“We always have, for many decades, had the worst air quality in the nation, We do have the option to have stricter regulations than is required nationally,” Ms. Caesar said. “We get waivers to implement these regulations.”

U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England dismissed the truckers’ case Dec. 20, ruling that when the EPA approved the rules, the case left his court’s jurisdiction. If the CCTA wants to keep fighting the regulations, it will have to include the federal agency in its lawsuit.

Mr. McClellan said that’s exactly what the truckers intend to do.

The CCTA will take its case “to another federal district court out in California or even to the Supreme Court,” he said. “Congress said really that no state can regulate transportation differently than any other state, because that makes unfair competition.”

Mr. Shaw said he and the California Trucking Association have also tried to get CARB to consider industry concerns before implementing the rules — to no avail. 

“Oftentimes, the ARB, they’ll just call you a ‘denier,’ ” he said. “So it’s difficult oftentimes to have a discussion.”

Katherine Timpf, a digital editor at Times247, is a 2012 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow with the Phillips Foundation in Washington, D.C.Follow Katherine on Twitter @kctimpf