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Is the U.S. Heading to Calif.-like Emissions Standards?

New federal air quality rules will affect hundreds more counties across the country, and fleets are in the cross hairs. Is your area on the list?

You can tell a lot about a state through its nicknames. California, the Golden State, is also termed the Left Coast and the Land of Fruits and Nuts. Ah, California, where there is no line between movie stardom and politics, where hot tubbing is a sport and cops pull you over for faulty speakers. (I’m kidding on the last one).

Not surprisingly, many fold their arms and shake their heads at California’s perceived anti-business regulations, particularly when it comes to curtailing the emissions from cars, trucks and buses. It makes the writers of those rules, the California Environmental Protection Agency (CARB) and the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), easy whipping boys.

But when you understand that those beautiful blood-red California sunsets are in part caused by the worst pollution in the nation, you’ll know why those rules go above and beyond federal standards. “We lead the way and we take a lot of heat for it,” said Beth White, who oversees the implementation of CARB’s truck and bus regulations, in a recent conversation.  

But while CARB’s overall mandate is to reduce pollution and protect the health of California citizens, it is also tasked with complying with nationwide standards under the federal Clean Air Act. If air quality does not attain a defined standard, then the state risks losing federal highway funds. This is a main driver behind the development and implementation of California’s Truck and Bus Regulation.

The much-maligned regulation, in development since 2008, governs diesel-powered vehicles of more than 14,000 lbs. GVWR. It outlines a schedule to de-fleet vehicles based on engine year in favor of cleaner burning, late-model engines, or retrofit those vehicles with diesel particulate filters (DPFs) to delay cycling to newer trucks. In any case, it covers hundreds of thousands of trucks, and it is costing fleets a lot of money.
But an interesting consequence might be benefiting California fleets on the way to compliance. The federal government is tightening the Clean Air Act, and the new standards will catch in its net many more jurisdictions around the country. In fact, if the EPA’s proposal to restrict the ozone standard to 65 to 70 parts per billion (ppb) comes to pass, 358 counties would violate 70 ppb, and 200 more counties would violate 65 ppb.

The federal government is tightening the Clean Air Act, and the new standards may affect fleets in as many as 558 counties.
The federal government is tightening the Clean Air Act, and the new standards may affect fleets in as many as 558 counties.

That means hundreds more counties will need to find ways to comply with the Clean Air Act, and the act gives them the authority to do so. As a result, other states will look to enact regulations similar to CARB.

The Clean Air Act also provides states with time to meet the new standard, between 2020 and 2037, depending on the severity of their ozone problem. California, ironically, has been granted the most time (until 2037) to get there. Those dates are not as far in the future as you might think, especially because it takes time to improve ozone levels. Therefore, look for new rulemaking from states and counties soon.

California fleets are already on their way to compliance, mandated by the Truck and Bus Regulation. They’re reaching attainment by a combination of cycling out old trucks and retrofitting diesel particulate filters (DPFs), which buys time until final compliance.

But fleets in other parts of the country might not have the DPF option. According to Matt Schrap, president of California Fleet Solutions, an emissions consulting firm, the technology in aftermarket retrofits today generally would not bring diesel truck emissions into compliance with the latest rules.

“The DPF retrofits are really designed to control particulate matter,” Schrap said, adding that ozone improvement is specifically tied to nitrogen oxide (NOx) reduction, which is best served by buying new engines. Schrap said trucks (or engines) built during or after the 2004 model year - a key milestone in federal diesel standards - will likely be OK, though Schrap stressed that we'll only know for sure when the new regulations are announced, if in fact they enact them. "Those 2004 engines will fare better than a Nineties vintage engine for sure," Schrap said.

Schrap said trucks (or engines) built during or after the 2004 model year — a key milestone in federal diesel standards — will likely be OK, though we’ll only know for sure when the new regulations are announced. Any truck built to satisfy the 2007 and 2010 engine standards should be fine, he said.

It’s hard to say today exactly how the coming regulations will hurt fleets’ wallets in affected areas of the country. But if you’re running pre-2004 trucks, mark your calendars for Oct. 1, 2015, when the EPA will announce its final rule on the new standards.

Soon those same fleets that cast a jaundiced eye to California for so many years can look forward to some of the pain California fleets are going through now. 


  1. William Brooks [ April 5, 2015 @ 07:11AM ]

    how do we trust an article that the author doesn't know that CARB stands for California air resource board and not California environmental protection agency

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Author Bio

Chris Brown

Executive Editor

Chris is the executive editor of Business Fleet Magazine and Auto Rental News. He covers all aspects of the fleet world.

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