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California Passes Nation's Strictest Diesel Truck Rules

India West, News Report, Sunita Sohrabji Posted: Dec 30, 2008

SAN LEANDRO, Calif. -- In a move opposed by many small trucking businesses, the California Air Resources Board passed the nations strictest rules for diesel truck emissions Dec. 12 in Sacramento.

This couldnt have come at a worse time, Paul Sihota, CEO of Royal Express Trucking in Fresno, Calif., told India-West. Everythings slowed down so much because of the economy, he said, adding that he anticipates cutting back 10 percent of his workforce to meet the expenses of complying with the new regulations.

In an India-West article earlier this summer, Indian American truck owners, who make up one-third of the industry in California, said the new regulations, which require costly retrofits and replacements, would force many smaller trucking companies to shut down (I-W, July 25).

Diesel emissions in California contribute more than 40 percent of the two biggest components of air pollution: particulate matter and oxides of nitrogen, known as Nox. The American Lung Association estimates 9,000 people in the state die annually from illnesses associated with poor air quality, including chronic bronchitis and asthma.

Annually, about 3,700 deaths can directly be attributed to diesel-related illnesses, according to the ALA.

After hearing two days of testimony from nearly 200 truckers and public health advocates, CARB adopted new regulations which require all truck companies to initially retrofit their fleets with diesel trap oxidizers by 2010.

Trucks older than 2010 will have to be replaced, on a staggered schedule, by the year 2020. Companies with fleets of one to three trucks have an extra year to comply.

Fines for non-compliance could be as much as $10,000 per day.

The rules apply to all trucks doing business in California, whether or not they are registered in the state. Trucks that do long-distance hauling are also required to install more efficient tires and aerodynamic features.

Todays vote marks a milestone in the history of Californias air quality, said California Air Resources Board chairwoman Mary Nichols in a press statement announcing the new regulations. The Boards actions will not only help protect the health of 38 million Californians, they will also ensure that California continues strongly on its path to achieving clean air, she said.

Karen Caesar, CARB information officer, told India-West: This was one of the most important and well-attended hearings in ARBs history. Hundreds of people came forward to testify, and the Board took their comments very seriously.

I think most people are pleased with the outcome, and feel we have passed two very progressive and vital regulations that will help to save lives and protect our future, she added.

To help offset the estimated $5 billion in costs to the trucking industry, the state is offering $1 billion in loans and grants. Loan and grant applications are available on the CARB Web site: www.arb.ca.gov.

Sohinder Athwal, founder of the Fresno, Calif.-based Market Express, told India-West, Were going to have to start spending money next year. Im going to have to take on more debt to pay for the new equipment.

Athwal has a mostly-newer fleet of 20 trucks, which were manufactured between 1998 and 2007. He applied for early-compliance funding in October from the Carl Moyer fund, but has yet to learn if he qualifies.

California is facing a staggering budget deficit of more than $41 billion over the next 19 months, and many truckers wonder if the state will be able to offer the funds it has promised them if it runs out of cash.

Sihota, of Royal Express, plans to move a significant portion of his business to Arizona. Theres a lot of frustration in the industry about these new regulations, he said.

During an emergency in the states economy, Californias businesses are being burdened with cumbersome and expensive rules that just make it harder to do business here, said Sihota.

The industry had offered an alternative to CARBs regulations, which phased in the upgrades over a longer period of time. CARB rejected the proposal, saying its own timeline was designed to comply with federal standards.

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