Webinars, mailers, billboards, even an old-fashioned telephone hotline: That’s how California’s Air Resources Board is trying to educate heavy-duty truck owners and operators about the state’s extensive air pollution requirements.
“One thing about our regulations is they’re quite complicated,” said Bruce Tuter, manager of the Compliance Assistance and Outreach Section for the ARB. This month alone, the ARB has run webinars for truck and bus operators, held an in-person event, and sent tens of thousands of mailers to fleet operators to help them understand how to comply.
The ARB says that of the 400,000 heavy-duty diesel trucks registered in California, about 80,000 are out of compliance.
“We’re dealing with folks who don’t have time to try to understand the rules,” Tuter said.
Phasing in regulations
California began regulating diesel trucks and buses in 2008, about the time the U.S. economy dived into a steep recession.
“The industry came to us and said we’re losing money because people aren’t buying stuff; we’re not shipping stuff around,” Tuter said.
Because trucks were driving fewer miles and generating fewer emissions, the ARB decided it could provide some flexibility in meeting the new requirements, allowing truck owners and operators to delay upgrades to their fleets, which typically involved switching to new trucks or adding particulate filters to older ones.
The ARB modified its regulations to provide such flexibility in 2010, and again in 2014, with phase-in schedules for trucks based on their model years and miles traveled.
But providing more time for truck owners to comply made the compliance timelines even more complicated, Tuter said. “That was why we started outreach efforts.”
One of those efforts is a hotline. Tuter said the ARB gets about 130,000 calls annually to its compliance hotline, 866-6-DIESEL, which provides one-on-one help. It also runs an information site called Truckstop, which gets about 100,000 hits each year.
During a three-hour webinar the ARB held Monday on compliance options and reporting requirements for 2019 and beyond, the moderator fielded dozens of questions, many about low-mileage requirements and particulate filters.
Those requirements became even more complicated in 2018, when the ARB lost a lawsuit filed on behalf of a rock and gravel company in Fresno that had complied with the ARB rules before the agency provided more flexibility.
A ruling in the Lawson Rock & Oil Inc. v. Air Resources Board lawsuit, heard by California’s 5th District Court of Appeal in January 2018, affirmed a 2016 ruling in Fresno County Superior Court. In that case, Judge Mark Snauffer said the California Air Resources Board had exceeded its authority by allowing small trucking firms to delay compliance with some emissions regulations.
The company claimed it spent heavily to make sure its fleet was compliant with environmental regulations but that competitors were unfairly allowed more time.
“Right now is when truck operators are seeing the impact (of that lawsuit),” Tuter said, adding that the ARB has sent letters and emails to all affected truck operators.
The ruling prompted a return to the more stringent regulations of 2010, Tuter said. The biggest changes were to what qualifies for a low-use exemption. Trucks had been eligible for an emissions exemption if they were driven less than 5,000 miles per year; the new maximum is 1,000 miles. The timeline for adding a particulate filter or upgrading to a newer engine has been shortened.
Carriers call program helpful
Motor carriers are finding the education program helpful.
Alan Osofsky, the manager of Rodgers Trucking Co. in San Leandro, Calif., attended Monday’s compliance webinar to “stay up to speed and make sure I don’t miss anything.”
Rodgers operates 38 tractors in Northern California. He learned that 17 of them will need to be replaced within the next two years as a result of the Lawson lawsuit.
“That’s a major hit for us even though we complied and put retrofits prior to 2014 with the idea we could keep the trucks a lot longer, but now we can’t,” Osofsky said. He estimates it will cost his company $750,000 to upgrade its 1995 to 2001 model-year engines.
“CARB is right to be reminding people right now,” said Joe Rajkovacz, director of governmental affairs for the Western States Trucking Association. “The reality is that you’ve got to get into compliance. It doesn’t necessarily mean that many truck owners are happy about the rules.”
Truck owners who have spent the money to comply with ARB’s emissions rules have a lot of “angst over those who have chosen to basically thumb their nose at the system,” he said.
A company that owns 10 trucks, Rajkovacz said, could spend $1.5 million to comply with California’s emissions requirements, and that puts them at a disadvantage against the 20 percent of trucks registered in the state that are noncompliant.
Changes due in 2020
But that will come to an end starting Jan. 1, 2020, when California’s SB1 effectively marries DMV registrations with ARB compliance status, automatically rejecting the registrations of noncompliant trucks.
The effects of SB1 on the California trucking industry, of course, are the subject of even more ARB outreach.
For 2019, Tuter said, the basic rule of thumb is that any heavy-duty truck that’s older than a 1996 model will need a new engine because of the new requirement that fleets need to conform to an earlier timeline for environmental upgrades.
“Most are looking at putting a new engine in the older truck,” he added. “Realistically they will probably have to get rid of it and get a newer truck.”