North Bay trucking companies are spending millions of dollars on new trucks this year in order to meet tough air quality rules aimed at getting older, smoke-belching cabs off the road.
The state has provided grants to help pay for new, high-tech diesels that emit a 10th of the air pollution that the 2006 models produce. The latest grants provide up to $60,000 toward a big-rig that can easily cost $130,000 or more.
North Bay companies receiving grants include Doss Logistics, Expressway Transport, Toby's Trucking and Biagi Bros., plus beverage distributor Eagle Distributing and milk producer Clover Stornetta Farms.
One local truck dealership, Coast Counties Peterbilt in Windsor, estimates it sold about 40 tractor trucks in August as truckers made purchases in time to meet looming deadlines. All but two of those sales involved state grants, said Brian Farrell, a sales representative.
Selling five or six trucks would have been a good month for most of the past five years, he said. Elsewhere in the United States, big truck sales remain sluggish.
"There's absolutely nothing else going on in the rest of the country except California," Farrell said.
The state has required that by 2023 virtually all commercial diesel trucks will be using 2010 technology or better — emission systems able to drastically cut nitrogen oxides and toxic soot. The rules affect roughly a million trucks now in operation, including 200,000 big-rigs.
The grants are part of a $1 billion effort approved by state voters in 2006 to reduce air pollution and health risks related to freight transportation.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has told the Golden State that it must clean up the air over a number of communities by 2014 or face penalties regarding federal funding for highways and bridges. More than an eyesore, state officials said diesel emissions can cause cancer and the clean-up efforts can save lives.
"That's why California has to do more, because our air quality is generally worse than the rest of the country," said Tony Brasil, chief of the state Air Resources Board branch that oversees the big-rig rules.
Truck company officials readily acknowledged the great advances that have been made in the emissions technology on new trucks.
Nonetheless, they said, their industry took a significant hit during the recession, and they now are being forced to spend millions of dollars replacing trucks at an accelerated pace.
"They're pushing this too fast," said Toby Giacomini, an owner at Toby's Trucking in Petaluma.
Frank Sousa, president of Expressway Transport in Petaluma, likened the situation to a motorist who thinks their 2006 model car still has years of operating life left in it.
"What if I told you you couldn't drive it this year?" Sousa asked. "How would you feel?"
The clean-up efforts date back to at least 1998 when California identified diesel exhaust as a carcinogen.
In 2006, voters approved Proposition 1B, which provided nearly $20 billion in bond funding for transportation-related projects. The proposition included $1 billion to offer financial incentives to freight companies that upgrade vehicles with cleaner emission technologies.
The state already has required improvements for owners of other diesel equipment, including public agencies and trucks that operate around ports. And due to the recession it delayed the implementation for freight trucks. Regulators have yet to require emission upgrades for diesel tractors and trucks on farms.