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Failing to meet California regulations can lead to big fines

Truck operators have a number of regulations they must meet to operate in California, including trailer and refrigeration unit mandates. Failure to do so can lead to big fines. ( Photo: Shutterstock )

Valued at well over $700 billion, the trucking industry is a massive collection of industry players – truck drivers, carriers, brokers, shippers, technology providers and more – that, as the saying goes, moves America. For trucking companies and especially owner-operators and small fleets that run over-the-road operations, the chances are pretty good that at some point you will find yourself inside the state of California.

California can provide added stress to your operation due to its insistence on setting strict environmental regulations for equipment operating within its state’s borders. A unique clause in the  Clean Air Act of 1963 gave the state the authority to set its own environmental rules, and it has been doing so ever since. Even as the Trump Administration’s EPA is looking at relaxing many environmental rules, California is forging ahead.

For truckers, that could mean operating under two separate sets of rules – those set by the federal government and those enforced by California (and a few other states that follow California’s lead). The solution that many have chosen is simply to abide by California’s regulations, as they are usually equal to, or stricter, than the federal government’s regulations. If you comply in California, you will comply everywhere.

Still, owner-operators, small fleets, and even some larger operations can be tripped up, as evidenced by two announcements last week by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). CARB fined Marten Logistics and Roadrunner Transportation Systems for failing to ensure trucks they hired or dispatched met the state’s Truck and Bus Regulation. Marten Logistics was fined $100,000 and Roadrunner $52,200.

What CARB said was that Marten was fined for “not verifying that each truck hired or dispatched was compliant with California.” Roadrunner was fined for the same reason. Even though these logistics companies did not operate the trucks in question, CARB is saying they need to verify their compliance.

Like most regulations, there are a number of provision and exemptions, but here are the basics of the Truck and Bus Regulation, as described by CARB on a Q&A page on its website:

“The Truck and Bus regulation affects individuals, private companies, and Federal agencies that own diesel vehicles with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) greater than 14,000 lbs. that operate in California. The regulation also applies to publicly and privately owned school buses; however, their compliance requirements are different and reporting is not required. The regulation does not apply to state and local government vehicles and public transit buses because they are already subject to other regulations. Vehicles that are exempt from other heavy duty diesel regulations, such as Cargo Handling Equipment, Drayage Truck, and Solid Waste Collection Vehicle regulations, may be subject to the Truck and Bus Regulation (regulation). Drayage and solid waste collection trucks with 2007 to 2009 model year engines must meet the requirements of the regulation by January 1, 2023.

“Heavier trucks and buses with a GVWR greater than 26,000 pounds must comply with a schedule by engine model year or owners can report to show compliance with more flexible options. All heavier vehicles with 1996 or newer model year engines should have had a PM filter (OEM or retrofit) installed unless it is using an option that delays this requirement. Vehicles with 1995 model year and older engines must be replaced starting January 1, 2015. By January 1, 2023, all trucks and buses must have 2010 model year engines with few exceptions. No reporting is required if complying with this schedule.”

The purpose of the regulation is to reduce emissions in the state. Any truck operating in the state, regardless of whether it is domiciled in the state, must meet the regulations. CARB advises truck owners to accurately report VINs, plate numbers, and engine information in the Truck Regulations Upload, Compliance and Reporting System (TRUCRS) if using one of the many flexibility options available. Failure to report the required information accurately could delay California DMV registration starting in 2020, it said.

For operators in California, the Truck and Bus Regulation is just one set of regulations that must be met. The state has several “legacy programs” around idling limits, emission control labels, heavy-duty vehicle inspection program and periodic smoke inspection program.

For tractors and trailers, there are also regulations that must be met.

Tractors: All 2011 through 2013 MY sleeper-cab tractors must be SmartWay designated models. 2014 MY or newer tractors are covered by a federal regulation and are exempt from this rule.

Trailers: All trailers must be either SmartWay certified or aerodynamically retrofitted to a minimum standard. Fleets that previously reported trailers to use the Optional Compliance Schedules may phase-in aerodynamic technologies over several years.

A copy of the major truck environmental regulations in California

(Click to enlarge)

Even refrigeration units must meet regulations. The Transport Refrigeration Unit Regulation (TRU) requires “all transport refrigeration units (TRU) and TRU generator sets that operate in California must meet the in-use performance standards (see compliance schedule table below). Every California-based TRU and TRU generator set must be registered in ARBER and be labeled with an ARB Identification Number.”

One positive is that California offers a number of potential funding opportunities for vehicle replacement, retrofits and zero-emission technologies. There is also a loan assistance program to help those who operate at least 50% of the time in California.

The cost to comply in California can tax a small fleet’s budget, but it’s important to know what the regulations are before you decide to do business in the state. A penalty such as what Marten or Roadrunner suffered could doom a smaller fleet or owner-operator. In general, complying with California regs will often mean you are compliant in other states as well, but you should check in each state you do business in to be sure.

Knowing the law can save a lot of money, and even your business.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight covers general transportation news and leads the editorial team as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler.