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Can New CARB Regulations Save the Environment?

Pollution is bad. Nobody would reasonably argue against this. Anyone who lives in or has recently driven through California can see the dense smoke haze covering the state, giving headaches to anyone foolish enough to go outside without a face mask for even a small handful of minutes.

How timely it is, then, that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is expected to pass its newest set of truck emission regulations, despite industry members saying the proposed rules are too costly, ineffective, and possibly illegal.

Putting NOx in a Box

CARB wants to reduce smog in heavily-affected portions of the state such as Los Angeles, and is hoping to pass the Low NOx Heavy-Duty Omnibus Regulations to lower the production of nitrous oxides by 75% in the next four years.

To do this, CARB is requiring every heavy-duty diesel or gasoline engine sold in California to emit no more than .05 grams of NOx per brake horsepower hour after 2023. That might be a lot to understand, but what is important to know is that current regulations require only .2 grams of NOx, a tolerance level four times higher. To continue, by 2027 emissions will be required to be .02 grams of NOx.

The new proposed regulations have been met with harsh criticism from those who would be impacted by it most, including the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA), and the Truck Dealers Alliance of California (TDAC).

CARB had allowed the public to comment on the board meeting via a log. A representative from Achates Power, engine developer, says that they were on board with 2027 standards and had an engine in the works for that, but will be unable to get a .05 gram into mass production by 2024, leaving them a three-year gap of being unable to make a sale within state borders.

Matt Schrap, president of California Fleet Solutions, says this regulation will only boost demand and subsequently sales for used trucks, implying that the regulations do not apply retroactively to trucks and engines that have already been made.

Mike Tunnell of the ATA states that this regulation is only a detriment to California engineering. After all, why purchase a more expensive diesel engine in California when you and a buddy can pick up your next new truck in Nevada or Arizona instead? Truckers operate on a nationwide scope, so geographical location is not the huge advantage to California that it usually is in other industries. Those that can only buy in-state for one reason or another will be the only ones directly affected by this, which comes with an additional price tag and will hurt Californian businesses.

Questionable Effectiveness

The EMA is skeptical that a reduction in NOx emissions is a quick and easy way to reduce the smog found in the South Coast Air Basin (SoCAB), a region that includes Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, and Riverside counties.

EMA hired Ramboll Group, a Denmark-based company, to study how the reduction in NOx from coronavirus stay-at-home orders reduced smog in the southern counties.

“Ramboll’s analysis and findings confirm that the proposed Low-NOx Regulations likely will not be effective in reducing ozone levels in the SoCAB,” EMA wrote in its comments to CARB. “Just as important, CARB has done nothing to establish any different conclusion. The complete lack of evidence of the actual efficacy of CARB’s proposed Low-NOx Regulations is another factor establishing their invalidity.”

Conclusion

Surely anyone who breathes air would agree that air pollution is bad, but generally, state-by-state regulations of such things only give people loopholes to exploit simply by crossing a border. Perhaps only by working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and establishing stronger national standards will CARB be able to fully realize its dreams of a less smoggy future in California, a solution that TDAC, EMA, and ATA all agree upon.

As of the time of this writing opponents of the regulation say they are planning to appeal the new rule in court. It will be interesting to see how that turns out.

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