The Truck Stops Here

18-wheelers sacked by clean air cops

Back Article Sep 30, 2012 By Allen Young

There is a squad of clean air cops in Sacramento with a strong-arm approach that squashes the stereotype that environmentalists are wimps. These officials make up the enforcement branch of the California Air Resources Board, and they face off against truckers still fuming over
emission-control rules they fear will put them out of business.

There is a squad of clean air cops in Sacramento with a strong-arm approach that squashes the stereotype that environmentalists are wimps. These officials make up the enforcement branch of the California Air Resources Board, and they face off against truckers still fuming over
emission-control rules they fear will put them out of business.

When the ARB updated regulations for the California Statewide Truck and Bus Rule in 2008 — a set of mandates requiring all aging, heavy trucks to be retrofitted with low-emission exhaust filters or replaced entirely — truckers across the state drove to Sacramento to protest. In the comment box at the hearing, one trucker characterized the regulations as a “kiss of death,” while another said it would be the “final death blow” for her company.

Over the past decade, the ARB has passed increasingly rigorous mandates in order to discontinue the use of dirty trucks and buses. Some truckers allege they used public grants to purchase newer, compliant trucks, only to watch the ARB tighten regulations and force those recently purchased vehicles off the road. The waste of taxpayer dollars should make people livid, says Rick Markell, general manager of West Sacramento-based Capital Containers, a small trucking contractor.

“It’s a crooked scam, and it’s one that I think, if normal people knew about it, they would want (ARB chair) Mary Nichols’ head on a pipe,” says Markell.

The Statewide Truck and Business Program is intended to reduce the public’s exposure to diesel exhaust, a known carcinogen that is also linked to cardiovascular and pulmonary disease. The ARB predicts that by 2023, when all trucks and buses must have a 2010 model year or newer engine, public exposure to the harmful contaminants will be reduced by 85 percent.

To enforce the rules, ARB has hired 20 full-time government workers statewide to perform random spot checks at highway rest stops, landfills, seaports and other areas of heavy truck traffic, says an ARB spokesman. The work is aided by the California Highway Patrol and local air-quality districts.

Officials say the enforcement effort is partly to ensure that private companies in compliance with the rules are not placed at a competitive disadvantage with those who have not.

“If you’re a trucking company and you’re playing by the rules and I’m out there cheating every day, and you spend millions of dollars in compliance and I’m outcompeting you, you have to penalize me when I’m caught to put me in compliance and make it hurt,” says Paul E. Jacobs, chief of the ARB’s Diesel Programs Enforcement.

Individual penalties range from $300 to $10,000, depending on the egregiousness of the violation and a companies’ willingness to fix the problem, says Jacobs. Violators must also complete an air pollution course taught at a local community college. State laws also allow for a decreased fine if companies meet a series of criteria that includes financial hardship.

If companies do not pay the fine, the ARB has authority to take a series of measures that can eventually result in blocked registrations through the Department of Motor Vehicles and vehicle impoundment by the CHP. In some cases, the ARB has filed lawsuits for noncompliance through the state Attorney General and acquired court injunctions against non-compliant companies.

Despite the severe policies, there are signs that many truckers are dismissing the rules. In August, during its “Gear Up for Clean Truck Month” campaign, the ARB evaluated approximately 2,000 diesel vehicles and equipment and found about 77 percent in compliance.

Skepticism has also come from manufacturers of the exhaust filters. A recent survey showed approximately 3,000 low emission filters were sold to trucks that operate in California in the first half of 2012, but the ARB projects drivers need to purchase and install 12,000 filters this year in order to meet a 2013 compliance deadline.

ARB estimates there are about half a million trucks and buses operating on California roads. The agency runs about 30,000 to 40,000 individual diesel vehicle and equipment inspections per year and about 300 to 500 fleet audits.

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