By Eric Miller, Staff Reporter
This story appears in the Dec. 20 & 27 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.
For some time, two things seemed certain for truckers in California: taxes and stiff environmental requirements. That didn’t change in 2010.
State environmental officials, facing pressure from federal regulators to improve the state’s poor air quality by 2014, continued their push to reduce heavy truck diesel emissions.
The same was true for officials at ports throughout the state, who have been feeling heat from citizens and political leaders to clean the dirty air in surrounding communities.
The good news for truckers has been that officials with the California Air Resources Board in 2010 began taking note of the devastating effects of the recession, granting some emissions reduction regulatory delays and offering cost-saving options to help ease the financial pain for carriers.
Before the end of 2010, CARB’s board of directors was expected to approve a slate of amendments to the state’s heavy truck diesel emissions reduction regulation, projected to save the trucking industry more than $3 billion in retrofits and engine replacements, and delay some compliance requirements by a year or more.
“The recession has significantly impacted the economic health of the regulated industry and, consequently, has greatly affected its ability to comply with the current regulations,” said a CARB staff report explaining the rationale for the amendments.
“Additionally, the recession has had significant social implications, causing a number of businesses to reduce their activities or go out of business, which has resulted in significant unemployment throughout the state.”
Because there were fewer trucks on the road, CARB said the state’s pollution levels were lower than projected, making the amendments achievable.
But just how much relief the amendments will provide remains to be seen, said Matthew Schrap, director of environmental affairs for the California Trucking Association.
“We’re still looking at a pretty major fleet turnover leading up into the 2020 time frame,” Schrap told Transport Topics in November. Indeed, over the long haul, the new regulations will require fleets to retrofit or re-power their vehicles and add SmartWay-approved aerodynamic technologies. In addition, food transporters with 2003 transport refrigeration units will be required to install Level 2 low emissions retrofits by year’s end, but were granted an additional seven years to install ultra low emissions reduction equipment.
At the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the clean trucks plans gained momentum as drayage operators over the past year continued to add hundreds of new 2007 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emissions-compliant trucks to their fleets. Officials at both ports said this year they had already reached their 2012 emissions reduction goals.
Yet a court fight continued between American Trucking Associations and the Port of Los Angeles over whether the port can ban owner-operators.
The port won the first round of the battle at the federal district court level in August when a judge ruled in support of the owner-operator ban. But in October, the judge granted ATA’s temporary injunction to block the port’s implementation of the employee-only plan while ATA awaited a decision on its appeal to the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals. A decision on the appeal was not expected until the summer.
On another front, California environmental regulators in December also were expected to amend the state’s drayage regulation to plug a pair of loopholes that are allowing some drayage operators to game the system to their competitive business advantage.
The amendments to the state’s drayage regulation will give state inspectors and port police officers the authority to issue citations to drayage operators who enter and exit the ports with clean trucks, but transfer their cargo to trucks with non-compliant emissions engines just outside the gates to carry the freight to warehouses.
After the transfer, the compliant trucks, known in the industry as “frequent fliers,” quickly return to the port to pick up another load and repeat the transfer process.