California scheming

Linda Longton

A “death blow.” That’s what Patti Born, president of three-truck fleet Pharris Trucking, called new air quality regulations passed by the California Air Resources Board last month. “This regulation will surely send many of our type of companies packing,” she wrote in comments to CARB.

Desperate to clean up its non-attainment area – a zone that stretches from north of San Francisco to San Diego, where either ozone or particulate matter exceeds levels set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – CARB is taking drastic measures and has trucking squarely in its sights. The regulations adopted Dec. 12 require fleet owners operating in California to begin replacing older trucks or retrofitting them with diesel exhaust filters, beginning in 2011. Owners also must replace engines older than the 2010 model year on an implementation schedule running from 2012 to 2022.

To reduce greenhouse gases by improving fuel economy, CARB also requires long-haul operators of 53-foot box-type trailers to use Smartway-certified fuel-efficient tires and aerodynamic devices. Beginning with the 2011 model year, all new tractors must also have low rolling-resistance tires; 2012 for older tractors. And CARB plans to require all sleeper-equipped tractors pulling 53-foot box-type trailers be Smartway-certified models as of 2011.

The costs associated with these changes, which CARB estimates at about $15 billion, create an economic nightmare for truckers. Sure, California is offering to help offset the investment through grant and loan programs, but already cash-strapped truckers will likely choose instead to avoid California altogether. In fact, in a survey conducted by owner-operator business consultant Kevin Rutherford, 62 percent of respondents said they plan to stop going to California once the new rules take effect.

You can avoid the Golden State, but the rules will still impact your business. Consider equipment resale value. There’s a shrinking pool of buyers for trucks and trailers that aren’t welcome in the state with one of the largest economies in the world. And because of California’s shear size and influence, rules that begin there (think stringent anti-idling efforts) often spill over to the rest of the nation.

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Understandably, many truckers feel they are being unfairly targeted, especially in the current economic climate. “Please consider how most companies weather the recession,” writes Blain Stumpf, a California-based small fleet owner in comments to CARB, “spending cash to retain employees, tapping credit lines to cover daily operating costs,” and leaving nothing for equipment upgrades.

CARB listened – sort of. After hearing similar pleas from business owners, the agency responded by delaying implementation until 2011, instead of the original proposal of 2010. Small comfort to struggling owner-operators who certainly care about clean air – but not at the expense of their businesses.