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Transportation bill will make it harder to replace oldest, dirtiest trucks

Peterbilt 384 liquefied natural gas trucks are in line to be auctioned off at Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers in Perris, Calif. on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Heavy duty trucks are the biggest contributors to smog in Greater Los Angeles.

When the California state Legislature passed its mammoth transportation bill, SB-1, the gas tax and vehicle license fee hikes hogged all the attention. But a small section about replacing old trucks is worrying air quality advocates.  

Section 18 of the bill will make it more difficult for regulators to require trucking companies to replace old, high-mileage trucks. Trucks must be at least 13 years old before companies can be forced to buy new ones — unless there are incentives to do so.

“If you purchase a new engine, there should be some period where you can operate it before being asked to modify or replace it again,” said Chris Shimoda, the vice president of government affairs with the California Trucking Industry.

Section 18 was a response to the diesel fuel and vehicle license fee increases that are part of SB 1, Shimoda said, extra costs that he said will drive up the cost of doing business in the state. Also contributing, according to Shimoda: a slew of regulations over the past decade, including a rule that requires most trucks to meet 2010 emissions standards by 2023.

But air quality regulators say the bill ties their hands and doesn’t ask the industry to contribute to cleaning up its own pollution. In a letter to legislators, Wayne Nastri, the head of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, called Section 18 “unnecessary and unfair.”

By making it more difficult to phase out the oldest, dirtiest trucks and require companies to use new emissions control technology as it becomes available, Nastri said the bill “ultimately means other sources must contribute additional emissions reductions.”

Heavy duty trucks are the biggest contributor to smog in Greater Los Angeles. South Coast AQMD’s latest air quality management plan, passed in March, included a number of provisions aimed at tackling truck emissions -- provisions that now may be in jeopardy. One of these is the “indirect source rule.” Because South Coast AQMD can’t directly regulate trucks, the agency has to get at their emissions indirectly by requiring places where trucks do business, like ports and warehouses, to cut their emissions.

In his letter, Nastri urged legislators to “delete this ill-funded trucking exemption” — but that isn't what happened. Instead, both the state Senate and Assembly passed the bill late Thursday night.

Adrian Martinez, an L.A.-based attorney with the environmental group Earthjustice, called it one of the biggest setbacks for air quality that he has seen in his career.

“A lot of people are trying to downplay it because they want to feel good about the transportation deal that was struck,” he said, “but the [environmental justice] groups I work with were really devastated this morning.”