Are California’s Emissions Regulations Too Strict?

October 22, 2015 by Seth Sparks, @sethbsparks

Diesel has been grabbing headlines across the globe lately, thanks to the Volkswagen scandal, Europe’s emissions standards, and the lower price of diesel in general. In California, however, the topic of diesel fuel has been ongoing for quite some time, and the focus has recently been shifting to the increased demands placed on vehicles by both the state and the federal government and the trucking companies who are trying to find ways to meet these standards.

The California Air Resources Board has outlined many goals that the state would like to reach by 2030, including reaching greenhouse-gas emissions reduction targets of 40 percent below 1990 levels, reducing gas use by up to half of current levels, and getting half of its electricity from renewable energy sources. CARB sees vehicles, including those running on diesel fuel, as being the biggest contributors to California’s pollution problems, responsible for roughly 80 percent of nitrogen-oxide emissions and half of GHG emissions.

In July, Governor Jerry Brown signed an executive order calling for agencies to find a way to improve freight efficiency by July 2016. These ambitious goals have led to concern from the trucking industry.

California’s demands are placing a heavy burden on many operations in the state. For-U-All Transport, located in Bakersfield, had to reduce their fleet from 12 trucks to eight in order to meet CARB’s requirements. “It’s been a nightmare,” said Ben Duval, co-owner of For-U-All Transport. “There have been several trucking companies, small ones like us, that have gone out of business.”

For Mr. Duval, the struggle to keep trucks in compliance with California’s standards leaves behind a long trail of bills and new trucks that present their own problems. The “check engine” lights, which never seem to go away, have been a constant reminder of never-ending service required to his fleet.

For some time now, fleet owners have been saying that the state’s demands are too costly and difficult to meet. Retro-fitting older trucks is particularly expensive, and the money spent on complying with regulations has created a large financial burden on trucking companies. The California Trucking Association stated in a press release that trucking companies are “already spending over a billion dollars a year to reduce emissions by 99 percent.” The press release was a response to Brown’s order and called for the governor to consider the financial impact it might have on the trucking industry.

The reason for California’s such demanding standards is a history of debilitating air pollution. CARB cites the state’s large population and geographical layout as two major reasons that pollution is such a problem in the state. Pollution generated from 33 million residents has a tendency to get trapped in “natural bowls” created by valleys surrounded by mountains. According to CARB, air pollution leads to cancer, neurological and reproductive disorders, and an increased response to allergens.

California’s strict limits on emissions have earned a reputation for toughness nationally. For example, the Los Angeles Times reported earlier this month that a Virginia trucking company, Estes Express Lines, was fined over $100,000 for operating in the state without the required diesel filters equipped on their trucks. The fine came as the result of a settlement with the EPA, which hopes that it will send a message to both in-state and out-of-state trucking companies to comply with California’s tough regulations.

As the trucking industry within California comes to terms with regulations, the national conversation will likely look to it as an example of how things get done, or perhaps as a cautionary tale. Time will tell.

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