For the past few months, Monte Eberhardt had been hearing from other big rig drivers that he may have to retrofit his cattle-hauling truck to meet new emission standards.
“I looked it up about the filter and I have until the end of January,” said Eberhardt, 40, of Wheatland.
But the owner of Eberhardt Livestock found that he was wrong Tuesday, when he was pulled over just north of Sacramento for a state Air Resources Board truck inspection.
He was issued a citation for not having an emission control label on the engine of his 1998 Kenworth rig, and was told that he would be fined $800 if he did not have the engine tested and certified as meeting emission standards within 45 days. That means he either gets a particulate-matter filter installed or switches out the engine for a 2007 or newer model. At that point, the fine drops to $300.
“I became an owner-operator recently, and I’m still learning,” said Eberhardt, who bought the truck a year and half ago. He said he would likely install a particulate-matter filter, which he estimates would cost about $20,000. “The truck is still in pretty good shape,” he said.
Tuesday, two ARB inspectors were checking big rigs southbound on Highway 99, just north of the split with Interstate 5, to see if they were complying with the agency’s requirements. Older trucks were pulled aside for inspection, and refrigerated trucks were also checked to see if the engine for the refrigerator unit was in compliance with idling regulations.
Truck drivers were asked to rev up their engines so that the inspectors could see if black smoke was coming out of the smokestacks. Then they were asked to pop open the hood, so that inspectors could check the engine to see what year it was and whether it had an emission control label. Inspectors can also check via laptop to whether the truck has been registered and whether the company has other trucks. If the truck passes muster, then a yellow sticker is placed on the windshield, which means it doesn’t need to be checked again for three months.
The inspection usually takes less than five minutes, and a number of newer trucks were allowed to bypass the inspection.
“We don’t want to take up any more time than we have to,” said Mark Tavianini, manager of the ARB’s mobile source compliance training section, who was helping with the inspections.“We know they have a job to do. Time is money.”
For the 57 trucks pulled over at the spot Tuesday, eight citations were issued. Eberhardt’s citation was one of three involving emission control labels. Three citations fell under statewide truck and bus regulations, one was for commercial vehicle idling, and one was a transport refrigeration unit-related citation. For the first six months of 2013, the agency has conducted about 3,100 inspections of trucks and buses in the state and has issued about 390 citations.
“There are likely many trucks still out of compliance with California’s strict anti-pollution laws,” said ARB spokeswoman Melanie Turner. “Our overall goal is for all heavy-duty diesel trucks to have 2010 or newer engines by 2023.”
On any given day, about a million trucks and buses are traveling in the state, half of which are based in California, according to Turner. The exhaust from those vehicles contains particulate matter – soot – as well as nitrogen oxides, which can adversely affect health.
“Seventy percent of the cancer risk from air toxics is from diesel particulate matter,” Turner said. “Technology has improved so much over the past 15 years. Now filters are available that reduce diesel emissions by 85 percent or more, compared to having no filter at all.”
For that reason, in 2008, the ARB established rules to reduce those pollutants from diesel-powered vehicles weighing 14,000 pounds or more. A phased schedule was set up for trucks to either install a particulate-matter filter or switch over to a 2010 engine, depending on the year of the engine. For example, Eberhardt’s truck would fall in the schedule for 1996-1999 engines, which are required to have a particulate-matter filter installed by 2012, and switch out to a 2010 engine by the year 2020.
Under the regulations, all trucks with 2005 to 2006 engines have until the end of this year to install a filter, so another 50,000 trucks would have to come into compliance before Jan. 1. In addition, companies that have two or more trucks in their fleet must have at least one truck retrofitted by 2014. After that, the company faces a $1,000-a-month fine for every month out of compliance.
“People will be finding that the flexibility will go away,” said Bruce Tuter, an ARB air resource specialist, about the fleet requirement.
For Daniel Guerrero, 40, of Madera, owner of Daniel’s Trucking, that was bad news. He has three trucks in his fleet, and he was driving one of them – a Freightliner with a 2000 engine – when he was pulled over Tuesday. None of his trucks have particulate filters installed.
“It puts the heat on the small guys, said Guerrero, who learned that he had to retrofit one truck this year, another truck next year and a third after that. “Only the big companies have the resources to comply with the regulations. When I bought this truck, it was legal. Now they’re saying it’s not. They are changing the rules.”
He estimates that it would cost $12,000 to $18,000 to install the particulate-matter filter on one of his trucks. If he had to replace an engine, Guerrero said, that would run $25,000 to 30,00, while getting a new truck – for $140,000 to $160,000 – would be out of the question. He said the regulations would drive him out of business, as he can’t afford to make the necessary upgrades.
“I will have to downsize and let go of the other drivers,” he said. “I am going to run this until the end of this year, and I will have to raise my rates.”
However, complying with the regulations may not be as onerous as Guerrero suggested. A typical particulate filter usually runs about $15,000.
“There are funding opportunities for the upgrades,” said Eloy Florez, an ARB air pollution specialist. “They (truckers) are eligible for funding up to $45,000 toward a truck replacement.”
Eberhardt was interested in seeing if he was eligible for funding to help with the retrofits, and although he was cited, he said he didn’t mind the random inspection.
“We can’t breathe dirty air,” he said. “There are lot of vehicles, cars and trucks. It is what it is.”
Call The Bee’s Tillie Fong, (916) 321-1006.