Golden Rules

Max Kvidera | December 01, 2011

With the first of several deadlines looming in 2012, many operators and carriers that run in the state feel the increasing pressure of the state’s air regulations

As California strives to shape its air pollution regulations to meet upcoming federal Clean Air Act standards deadlines, the impact on trucking operators is a matter of wealth. If you can afford to retrofit your diesel-burning equipment or buy new vehicles on a regular schedule, you may feel relatively little impact. If you don’t have the financial means, you run the risk of falling short of compliance, facing stiff fines or going out of business.

Trucking companies and operators than run in the state feel the presence of the Air Resources Board, a division of the California Environmental Protection Agency, otherwise known as CARB. Depending on your type of operation, CARB rules affect you differently.

The California Trucking Association’s Michael Shaw questions some of the numbers and assumptions CARB used in developing its rules affecting trucking companies.

If you’re a national carrier that regularly turns over your fleet, you may hardly notice the regulations. If you’re an in-state linehaul company accustomed to running your trucks for a decade or longer, your business model may be disrupted. If you’re a solo truck owner hauling containers from the Port of Oakland, one set of CARB rules could cause you to retrofit or scrap your truck.

Overall, trucking’s cost to comply with clean-air regulations is estimated at more than $10 billion.

“A lot of companies out of state, particularly big carriers, are concerned about hours of service regulations and the truck driver shortage,” says Bob Ramorino, president of RoadStar Trucking. “We in California have a much different radar screen. At the top for us right now is environmental regulations.”

California isn’t the only state facing federal deadlines, but it’s the one state with the longest history of wrestling, often unsuccessfully, with dirty air caused by heavy traffic and trapped by unique geography. As such, the state’s approach to regulating business operations is monitored and often copied by other governments charged with controlling vehicle emissions.

“There’s definitely a recognition in other states of what’s going on in California,” says Mike Tunnell, director of environmental affairs at the American Trucking Associations. “One of the differences is you have a more balanced debate in other states. The decision-making process in other states rests in the legislature. In California it rests with the Air Resources Board.”

Trucking industry players are often critical of how CARB has developed the rules. They contend the agency doesn’t always listen to the industry in researching the topics or relies on dubious calculations in supporting its decisions.

“We’ve found the decision process on those regulations wasn’t entirely informed,” says Ron Hall, director of operations technology at carrier C.R. England. CARB chairman “Mary Nichols and her administration give preferential attention to university studies with comments on negative health impacts of pollution. It didn’t seem to be a true information gathering process. It seemed like decisions were made and opinions formed at that point.”

Michael Shaw, vice president of external affairs at the California Trucking Association, also finds fault with the CARB process and numbers employed in arriving at decisions. He contends the agency is out of touch with the problems trucking faces in meeting the regulations. “The challenge often is getting those drafting regulations and doing scientific analysis to understand their data is flawed outright,” he says. “In other cases they’re not looking at the full picture. In some cases they’re flat out ignoring the reality.”

Shaw gives the example of CARB’s research underpinning the requirement for trailer aerodynamic devices. The agency says that trailer skirt fuel economy benefits are based on trucks driving at freeway speeds 84 percent of the time in the state. “I don’t know if they’ve driven in Los Angeles, but most passenger cars can’t drive at freeway speeds 84 percent of the time,” he says.

Scott Blevins, president of Mountain Valley Express, says his fleet’s GPS units calculate average truck speed at 48 mph.

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