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CARB Members Say Cover-up Means Truck Rule Needs to be Revisited

December 04, 2009

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Members of the California Air Resources Board are saying the Statewide Truck and Bus Rule that takes effect next year was based on research that has been tainted by questionable credentials
-- a fact that the board, they say, has tried to cover up -- and that as a result the rule should be suspended.

CARB members Ron Roberts and Dr. John Telles have taken to the media to clear the air with the public and to request that the board suspend the truck rule, which would require exhaust retrofits and engine upgrades.

Soon after the controversial rules were approved in December 2008, newspaper reporters found that Hien T. Tran, the lead scientiest and coordinator of the study used to justify the new rules, had lied about holding a Ph.D. in statistics from the University of California Davis. His Ph.D. was the mail-order version. And, senior air board officials knew about it before the vote, never revealing it to the public.

On Nov. 16, Telles, a cardiologist on the board, wrote a letter to the air board's chief counsel, saying the air board's staff failed to meet its "ethical if not legal obligation" to provide all board members with pertinent information before a vote on a state regulation. Telles had never heard about Tran's deception until a Sept. 24 air board meeting, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Roberts became the second board member to pursue the matter, publishing a 750-word guest commentary in Union-Tribune Friday, alerting the wider public to the cover-up scheme within CARB related to the report that served as the basis for the board's decision to pass the Statewide Truck and Bus rule.

Trucking's Reaction

"As stakeholders in the process, you can imagine the frustration and disappointment with the lack of transparency," said Julie Sauls, spokeswoman for the California Trucking Association. "I think the acknowledgement of the withholding of information is appreciated and very much welcomed."

According to Mike Tunnell, the American Trucking Associations' director of environmental affairs, the industry is pleased to see these board members step up to address these transgressions. "We're definitely concerned about the process that has been undertaken and feel that some accountability is needed," he said.

The Cover-Up

In his commentary, Roberts outlines the events that have occurred within the board, focusing on the falsified credentials of Tran, a CARB staff member who took the lead on the report "Methodology for Estimating Premature Death Associated with Long-Term Exposure to Fine Airborne Particulate Matter in California." Tran claimed he had a doctorate in statistics from the University of California, Davis, but the board was later informed that he had purchased the degree online for $1,000.

"Today, air board staff defend the Tran report as one subsequently validated by 'rigorous internal as well as external review,'" Roberts said in his commentary. "Therefore, no need to revisit the vote, they say. Some board members have gone so far as to declare, 'There was no abuse, manipulation or dishonesty of any type.'"

Now, Roberts and Telles, who did some investigative work into the whole ordeal, are taking issue with how the board has handled the situation. "This withholding of information violates an important trust and is as serious as the original fabrication of credentials," Roberts wrote.

While both men are clearly in favor of clean air and clean diesel emissions, they believe the methods behind the truck rule decision need to be revisited. And they'll ask for that in CARB's meeting this week.

The Rule's Impact

The rule in question will require truck owners to install diesel exhaust filters on their rigs starting in January 2011, with nearly all vehicles upgraded by 2014. Owners must also replace engines older than the 2010 model year according to a staggered implementation schedule that extends from 2012 to 2022.

According to CTA's Sauls, this regulation will have a tremendous impact on the trucking industry, and the situation is even more magnified by the economic picture. In his commentary, Roberts says this would cost the industry $4.5 billion in upgrades between 2010 and 2030. Sauls says the rule needs a more robust financing mechanism, and that the board's research lacked a true economic impact analysis. The CTA is hoping the board will more accurately address the costs associated with this rule, if the board decides to revisit it.

"It's not that we don't want to comply," Sauls said. "There needs to be a balance, and these regulations need to be constructed in a balanced fashion," in order for the trucking industry to continue what it has been doing and not go out of business.

Sauls said members of the CTA took time out of their schedules to voice their opinions and concerns about this rule, presenting alternatives such as a timeline that was more in line with the availability of equipment and scenarios for low mileage users. However, these efforts were unrewarded, and the recent developments makes the CTA wonder if they should even continue to voice their concerns.

According to Mike Buckantz, CEO of Associates Environmental, an environmental consulting firm, the board has disregarded the economic conditions of the last two to three years. He believes the board has a general lack of understanding of how people in diesel-related industries make money and how the regulation will impact these industries' economic health.

Revisiting the Data

Buckantz also said that if the board is confident in the report, there should be no reason that they should be concerned about taking a step back to confirm the data. "It's a little mysterious to me that they're worried about revisiting it," he said.

Another industry stakeholder, who did not wish to be identified, told Truckinginfo.com that the issue is procedural at this point, and is interested to see if the board will actually review the data. It could be that Telles and Roberts are trying to protect their reputations, and that the whole thing could be for show. This industry stakeholder said the most ideal situation for the industry would be for the board to hire a neutral third party to review the report and make sure it's accurate. This would gain back some of the trust of the public.

To read Roberts' commentary, click here.



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