Featured article: Ports of Confusion

By Todd Dills | October 01, 2009

“I’d originally come out and done three runs from Texas and California in June with plans to head back to Florida ahead of the new regulation,” he says. “When they ultimately postponed it, I came back out here and got to work.”

Truckers like Cicciaro are drawing a line in the sand over California’s diesel regs. “I’m not investing any money to run California, he says. “As soon as they start that law, I won’t go back there.” He cites the strain a $3,000 payment for a new truck, trailer and reefer would put on his business, plus the added insurance costs for new equipment.

The irony is that like most owner-operators who don’t serve any of the California ports, this year Cicciaro would need only upgrade the reefer unit on his trailer to stay compliant through the end of 2013. That’s when a small-fleet exemption from the main powertrain upgrade requirement in the statewide truck and bus rule runs out. That rule requires pre-2007 trucks to be retrofit with diesel particulate filters.

By then, with a 16-year-old engine, Cicciaro could trade in for a new truck or even just “stick a newer factory reman in it and be in compliance” through 2019, Rajkovacz says. However, a reman with 2007-compliant technology is a complicated endeavor and cost-prohibitive for most owners, says Scott Ruland, with distributor Cummins

CalPacific. A 2007-compliant engine will “require its own harness, an upgrade of the cooling system. You’re pretty much starting from scratch,” Ruland says. Most of his on-highway repower business to date has been in converting to natural gas.

All the same, says Rajkovacz, “the majority of owner-operators will be able to cruise through these. CARB pushed off all enforcement on the statewide truck and bus rule – not on the drayage rule – to 2014. The second thing they did is to allow owner-operators with 2004-2006 engines, as long as they have a DPF retrofit, to go to 2019.”

The eventual aim is for all trucks operating in California to be powered by 2010 emissions technology by 2023.

Last December Devine Intermodal’s Dolk was working on securing $50,000 grants for truck replacements for 66 of its owner-operators through California’s large Carl Moyer bond fund program for diesel reduction assistance. Early this year, all grant assistance was put on hold as the revenue-strapped state sorted through priorities.

Bay Area Air Quality Management began granting money for retrofits rather than replacements. Now, Dolk hears there may be only 45 grants for his operators instead of 66. The delays also will likely increase the cost of the new trucks, due to the premium 2010 engine technology, and push the owner-operators against the deadline for the new drayage rule.

“We suggested they let us go ahead and order the new trucks now,” says Dolk, who was still waiting for the grants in August. “‘We’ll have you destroy the old trucks,’ we said, ‘and when money does become available, we want to be first in line – we’ll take the risk that it might not be there.’”

Owner-operator Marshall says he understands California’s air problems. “You drop off into the L.A. basin and you can see what you’re breathing. I have a lot of sympathy for the job they have to do – they changed the rules for the power plants and cars long ago. I think we caught a break in them waiting this long to regulate our emissions.”

All the same, it’s unfair for the government to change deadlines, he says. “It’s pretty hard to stay compliant with a moving target. The guys that don’t try to stay compliant are at a competitive advantage over me. They’re running equipment that should have been off the road years ago, and I still have to compete with them.”