Air Board Weighs Delay In Trucking Rules

(December 15, 2010)


December 15, 2010

California air pollution regulators, responding to the tough economy, are expected Friday to roll back many smog-cutting mandates for diesel trucks and off-road construction equipment.

Under current rules, the oldest and most polluting trucks in a few weeks will have to be retrofitted with costly controls to reduce toxic diesel soot pollution.

Officials with the California Air Resources Board say easing the rules is necessary to help the ailing trucking and construction industries. In addition, diesel pollution has abated significantly because of the near-collapse of the homebuilding industry and a slowdown in goods movement.

The construction industry uses diesel-power bulldozers, graders, backhoes and other heavy off-road equipment.

The rules were approved two years ago to help the state's most polluted regions meet federal clean-air deadlines. Various industries opposed the rules as costly, excessive and likely to put some small companies out of business.

Air Board spokeswoman Karen Caesar said the agency's long-term goals for reducing diesel emissions remain intact and will allow polluted regions like Southern California to meet federal clean-air standards for fine particles and ozone by 2015 and 2024, respectively. Diesel soot contributes to fine-particle pollution, which has been linked to cancer, heart disease and other ailments.

The Inland region has some of the highest levels of both types of pollution. Fine particles cause an estimated 5,000 deaths in Southern California each year, the state estimates.

"The public health benefits will not suffer," she said.

The complex set of proposed rule changes is detailed in a 703-page report. The changes would give industry more time and flexibility to bring their existing equipment up to clean-air standards already required for new trucks and machinery. Most requirements involving engine retrofits or replacements would be delayed for about four years.

The changes, for example, would eliminate a Jan. 1 requirement to outfit big-rig trucks built before 1994 with traps that capture 90 percent of the soot before it escapes the tailpipe. The devices are expensive -- more than $10,000 each. Truck owners instead would be required to replace old engines by 2015.

"It's a huge relief," said Daniel Del Muro, owner of PDM Transportation, a 31-truck company in Fontana. "We never saw how we could complete the retrofits. It was just going to put us out of business."

Terry Klenske, the owner of Dalton Trucking in Fontana, said he has mixed feelings.

The air board rules spurred him to spend $3.5 million on 32 new trucks, and his $65,000-a-month payments now put him at a disadvantage with companies that didn't upgrade their fleets. But he still has another 90 trucks that would have be retrofitted or replaced under the rules approved two years ago.

"For me it is kind of good news and bad news," Klenske said.

Diane Bailey, a San Francisco-based scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said her analysis of air board projections shows the rule changes will have consequences for people's health in next three or four years.

"We don't want to see anyone put out of work, but people are getting sick and dying because of this," Bailey said by telephone.

Using government statistical methods and the Air Board's most recent diesel emissions projections, Bailey estimated that in 2014 alone, the proposed rollback would mean 380 more early deaths statewide.

CARB's projections do allow the state to reach the longer-term federal health goals, she said.

Southern California air pollution regulators and some public health advocates acknowledge the down economy merits giving trucking and construction businesses more time to clean up their fleets. But they want close monitoring and the Air Board's commitment to quickly respond should diesel emissions rise faster than expected as the economy recovers.

"We understand the need to make adjustments because of the current recession, but we need further assurances," said Barry Wallerstein, executive officer of the South Coast Air Quality Management District. The agency regulates factories and other non-vehicle sources of air pollution in Orange County and the urban parts of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Todd Sax, chief of CARB's mobile source analysis branch, said the agency will make adjustments if a faster cleanup is needed.

The economic slowdown has resulted in a 25 percent reduction in anticipated diesel pollution from big-rig trucks, and a 50 percent reduction from off-road heavy equipment, Sax said.

Bonnie Holmes-Gen, a Sacramento-based senior policy director for the American Lung Association in California, said she understands the need to protect jobs but says the proposal should be changed to better protect public health.

She said she is especially concerned about a provision that delays any emissions-reduction requirements for lighter-weight school buses until 2015. Studies have found that diesel pollution can find its way into the passenger compartments of schools buses, putting children at greater risk.

Charlie Lanathoua, who lives near a large warehouse complex in Mira Loma, said he is disappointed about the rules rollback.

He said soot from diesel trucks blows over a block wall from busy Etiwanda Avenue. He worries about the children's health but said he feels powerless.

"Ten thousand dollars (for a particle trap) is a lot for me but not for a big trucking company," he said.