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Diane Bailey’s Blog

Clean Trucks: We Can't Afford Anything Less

Diane Bailey

Posted December 8, 2008 in Curbing Pollution

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This is shaping up to be a monumental week in the fight against global warming and air pollution in California. On Thursday, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) will vote to adopt the Scoping Plan to implement AB 32, California's Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, and on Friday, they will act on a historic proposal to clean-up and reduce fuel use from heavy-duty trucks.  The big rigs and virtually any other heavy-duty vehicle running on California roads - about a million in total - are geared up for a massive clean-up effort that is sorely needed, given the staggering number of deaths and illnesses caused by truck pollution.   

Why do we need to overhaul the trucking fleet now?  The millions of Californians living close to freeways, warehousing operations, railyards or port terminals have an intimate sense of just how bad pollution and health impacts are from trucks.  And the data bears that out: Half of the smog-forming gases and about 40 percent of soot from diesel engines comes from trucks.  The proposed clean up regs would save 9,400 lives and avoid thousands of cases of asthma and other illnesses, reducing health care costs by up to $69 billion.  The proposed regs also make efficiency improvement that will save $4 billion in fuel, which is pretty good considering that trucks contribute about seven percent of global warming pollution in California.  That's a combined savings of nearly $73 billion for Californians.  

However, the trucking industry is opposed to these important regulations and calling on delays during this tough economic time, though they've had more than a decade to tap into public funds to help prepare for these overhauls and they'll have another decade to fully clean up the fleet.  The trucking industry fails to see that they've had a free pass up until now with residents of California subsidizing trucking business with their lungs and health.  The long-term financial benefits to the people of California are at least ten times the cost of this rule.  And the state has even pledged $1 billion in grants and loans to offset some of the costs of these rules for the businesses that need help most. 

And no one has calculated the additional green jobs benefits. Thousands of local workers will likely be needed to install the pollution controls and aerodynamic retrofits that these regs call for, and perform additional maintenance.  Manufacturing will also get a big bump through production of retrofits and new, clean trucks.  These regs could very well serve as a mini stimulus package for California, spurring business growth for a slate of companies specializing in clean and efficient transport.

Still, many are arguing that we should simply wait to adopt sweeping truck clean-up regs.  Families impacted by truck pollution in California, however, have been digging deep in their pocketbooks for years to deal with asthma and a passel of other air pollution related illnesses.  Impacted communities will likely be well represented at the CARB hearing, travelling from distant corners of the state to testify that there's no better time than now to clean up trucks.  With children living in truck-choked areas like Mira Loma, Commerce, or the Bayview, and asthma and cancer rates in those areas through the roof, they're depending on these clean up measures to offer the relief from pollution that challenges their every breath.

On Friday, the Air Board has the tough job of balancing the grave health needs of California residents with the business needs.  In addition to the strong commitment to supporting health and air quality improvements traditionally espoused by CARB, the $1 billion in incentives and loans, billions of dollars of health cost and fuel savings, and incentive for green jobs should weigh heavily in favor of adopting these landmark truck clean up regulations now.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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