SACRAMENTO, Calif (AP) - California officials took steps Wednesday to delay the nation's toughest rules to reduce diesel emissions, saying trucking companies struggling with a poor economy should be given more time to replace fleets with cleaner trucks.
The state Air Resources Board said it would grant more time, in part, because diesel emissions are 20 percent lower this year than expected - a likely result of a recession-caused transport slowdown.
The decision came after regulators heard from dozens of truckers who say they are bringing in less business and unable to pay for costly new equipment.
"I'm concerned these regulations could put us out of business," said Christina Ramorino, controller at Roadstar trucking based in Hayward. "With everyone hurting for business, it's hard for us to pass on this cost to our customers."
The board instructed its staff to explore ways truckers could more easily reach the state's goal of cutting diesel emissions by 2014, the date required to meet federal clean air standards.
Board chairwoman Mary Nichols she was interested in giving truckers more flexibility in the next few years, but rejected calls to set aside the standards.
"Given the gap between what we thought the emissions would be and what the emissions actually are, as a result of the down economy, we have some room to work without compromising air quality," Nichols said. "If you've got the room and the you've the conditions we've got we should act."
The diesel rules were passed in 2008 and scheduled to take effect in 2011. Nearly a million vehicles must be replaced or retrofitted with smog traps, filters or cleaner-burning technology.
By 2014, all trucks must have soot filters. By the time the rule is fully implemented in 2023, no trucks or buses in California can be more than 13 years old unless equipment was installed to cut nitrogen oxide emissions.
The standards are projected to cost companies an estimated $4.5 billion over the next 15 years.
Health advocates say California, a state plagued by smoggy skies and rising asthma rates, can't afford to be lenient on pollution standards. The new rules will reduce ozone-eating nitrogen oxides and soot-forming particulate matter that can become embedded in lung tissue.
"We're very aware of the economic problem you're hearing about today," said Bonnie Holmes-Gen, a senior policy director at the American Lung Association of California. "We're also very concerned about the hardship of those suffering daily from lung-health problems. We believe those voices need to be heard."
Board scientists estimate the amount of diesel particulate matter and nitrogen oxides emitted would be cut by about a third by 2023, preventing 9,400 premature deaths over 20 years, 150,000 asthma-related cases and 950,000 lost work days.
Board staff suggested the rule could be modified in the early years but still meet the 2014 targets required by federal law. For example, trucking companies with 20 to 50 trucks could be given an extra two years to comply; all companies could be given two more years to retrofit or replace 10 of their vehicles; or all fleets could be given an extra year to comply.
Any change in the rule would have to go through a public workshop and comments, meaning it would be April 2010 before the board could vote.
The board rejected a bid by some in the trucking industry, and at one of its own members, to disband the rule because a staffer who wrote the report associated with the regulation lied about his credentials.
Hien Tran was suspended without pay for two months and removed from his management position for saying he had earned a doctorate in statistics from the University of California, Davis. Tran had earned the decree from the unaccredited Thornhill University.
"The acceptance of a fraudulent report by this committee trumps this and has to be done correctly by someone who has not falsified his credentials," board member John Telles said.
The board instead directed the staff to rewrite the report but keep the regulation in tact.
On the Net:
Air Resources Board, www.arb.ca.gov