A California judge has ruled that the California Air Resources Board erred in delaying the enforcement of stricter diesel emission rules for certain heavy-duty truck operators. 

The ruling by the Superior Court of California’s Central Division sets aside delays amended to the state’s Truck and Bus clean-air rule by CARB in 2014, ostensibly to level the playing field between large and small truck operations. 

In a statement, CARB said those amendments “provide badly needed flexibility to smaller fleets (three trucks or less), lower-use vehicles including those operated by small farmers, and fleets in some rural areas.” 

The agency said it will immediately file an appeal, which “will maintain the status quo while the case makes its way through the higher courts.” CARB said that as the case makes its way through the Court of Appeal process, its statewide staff will continue to enforce the regulation and will cite those vehicles found to be out of compliance. 

“We strongly disagree with the court, and will file an appeal in all possible haste,” said Jack Kitowski, head of CARB’s Mobile Source Division, which is in charge of putting the regulation into effect on a daily basis. “We don’t want to see small fleets and farmers hurt by this decision.”

The lawsuit was filed by John R. Lawson Rack and Oil of Fresno and the California Trucking Association, which alleged that CARB did not follow the proper procedures of the Administrative Procedures Act and the California Environmental Quality Act in adopting the amendments. 

“This ruling confirms that CARB failed to properly consider the impact on business and the environment when it pulled the rug out from under thousands of compliant fleets by not enforcing the rules across the board, to all trucks on California roadways,” said Shawn Yadon, CEO of CTA. “This is an important ruling for all businesses operating in California because it supports the requirement that regulatory agencies must evaluate the economic impact of their actions.” 

“In 2014, said CARB Executive Officer Richard Corey, “we recognized the extreme economic pressures experienced by smaller trucking fleets and independent owners as they sought to comply by upgrading or purchasing new equipment. We responded by amending the regulation to make it more flexible for ‘the little guys’ to comply.  This court decision negates those amendments and deals a profound blow the smaller fleets, small farmers and independent owners.”

CTA’s Yadon told HDT that the lawsuit “was not about big carrier vs. small carrier.  CARB’s amendments picked winners and losers, with the losers being those operators and carriers who stepped up and complied with the rule, at great cost.

"Those compliant operators and carriers were then placed in an unfair competitive landscape alongside those who had not complied and had not stepped up and incurred those significant compliance costs,” he added.

Yadon noted that during CARB’s April, 2014 public hearing on amending the delays to the clean-air rule, truck operators and small trucking companies “detailed significant financial hardships to comply with the rule, and spoke in opposition to the amendments to allow non-compliant operators a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Upon hearing directly from operators/carriers about the economic impacts the amendments would create, CARB voted to approve the amendments without conducting the thorough economic impact analysis required under the California Administrative Procedures Act.”

Joe Rajkovacz, Director of Governmental Affairs and Communications for the Western States Trucking Association, which did not have a position on the case, told HDT that the decision was not unexpected. He said that WSTA was “responsible for helping create the flexibility options” and was “successful in politicking the board in 2014 for these compliance options.”

Rajkovacz said that an appeal of the ruling could take years. “One of the flexibility options (for small fleets) effectively expires on January 1, 2018,” he noted, “rendering any final decision potentially moot should the appeals court affirm the trial court’s decision.”

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