A hot-button issue that very few people are aware of is making its way through the development stages and involves emission reductions that target California's commercial trucks and farm equipment.

While officials from the California Air Resources Board (ARB) say the new rules are necessary to meet federal clean air requirements, critics of the proposal paint a bleak picture of the consequences — warning that it will cost agriculture and freight operators billions of dollars to implement and many small trucking businesses will be forced into bankruptcy.

WPHA has joined a coalition made up of production agriculture and transporters of agricultural commodities and inputs to develop recommendations on the ARB's upcoming regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter in on-road diesel truck engines. Proposed rules go into effect by the fall of 2008, with phase-in beginning in 2010. These rules will require the replacement of virtually every commercial diesel engine in use by business. The coalition will be developing workshops to better educate ARB on the impacts of the rules on agriculture, language to exempt much of agriculture, and is working on meeting with ARB members.

This groundwork started taking shape in early November during a meeting between interested and concerned groups who will be impacted by the new rules, held in Fresno inside the headquarters of the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations, chaired by Roger Isom, vice president and director of technical services.

The key speaker during the meeting was a Fresno businessman who owns a large trucking company. He claimed that if ARB implements the new rules as currently written “the state of California will die because of this.” He noted that everything that a consumer touches has passed through a minimum of five trucks. “There's no way to deal with ARB short of litigation. I may be extinct by 2014. Business must spend $10 billion and possibly higher, and the costs cannot be passed on to other businesses and consumers.” He said that he would have to raise his costs by 86 percent to stay in business, and he would have to junk every truck he now owns by 2014 to meet the stringent requirements proposed by ARB. “This is insane; the trucking business is about to get hammered.”

During the meeting I realized that ARB's new proposals were very complicated and complex because of the different variations of engine types and a time frame with two phase-in periods which eventually replaces all commercial truck engines by 2021.

To bring things into focus, I asked Tony Brasil, ARB's manager of the In-Use Control Measures Section to explain the issue. Brasil is working with Isom and others on drafting the new rules.

He said that the Air Resources Board is committed to achieving significant emissions reductions to meet federal requirements to achieve clean air. The San Joaquin Valley and the South Coast are the only two areas in the country that do not meet these standards. A lot of the emissions reductions need to come from trucks and agricultural equipment. Most of the other sources of diesel emissions have already been regulated, he said.

“The commitment the board made was equivalent to having every truck and bus in the state meeting the 2007 model year engine standard,” he said. “These engines are much cleaner than pre-2007 engines. We are currently developing a proposed regulation affecting trucks and buses on how that commitment could be met. The first phase of the current proposal would be phased in between 2010 and 2013 such that in 2014 all trucks would have been upgraded or replaced with 2007 model year engines. In the second phase we are aiming to have all trucks upgraded to 2010 model year engines by 2021. The proposal is also written to give companies flexibility in how to comply,” he said.

Brasil said he is planning to make a final recommendation to ARB in October 2008. “We will be making modifications as we get better information and will continue to have several public meetings and workshops to discuss the proposal and changes,” he said. “We have also been actively meeting with individual companies and businesses to better understand the financial impact of the proposal.”

During November's Fresno meeting one remedy to soften the financial blow to small businesses involved some type of truck trading arrangement whereby new trucks are purchased and slightly older trucks are resold, making the changeover more gradual until the 2010 compliance year is met. Other concerns included what will truck owners do with their obsolete trucks, now without resale value in the U.S.? (The trucks cannot be resold elsewhere in the country.) Could they be sold to China, India or Russia? And, how will these new rules be enforced against out-of-state trucking companies?

In shaping and formulating its new truck rules, Brasil said ARB welcomes input from potentially affected stakeholders. “We expect to make multiple changes over the coming year to try to meet the very aggressive air quality goals with the lowest economic impact.”

He encourages readers to visit ARB's Web site at www.arb.ca.gov/dieseltruck to learn more about the issue and complete a survey that will be reviewed to accommodate concerns. He adds that the Web site also has a list-server so that anyone with an e-mail account can sign up to be notified of changes and future meetings.

Stay tuned; as this matter develops, heats up and takes shape over the following months I will keep you abreast of the latest twists and turns.

Richard Cornett is the director of communications for the Western Plant Health Association. He can be reached at 916-574-9744, or write him at richardc@healthyplants.org.