New emission regulations for transport refrigeration units on trucks that operate in California are causing headaches for owner-operators and others involved in transporting fresh produce.

Although the California Air Resources Board — which developed and enforces the regulations — is looking to amend the rules again to make things easier, it is also looking at stricter enforcement, possibly holding brokers, wholesalers and anyone who make transportation arrangements responsible for trucks that do not comply.

In the first six months of enforcement, the board inspected more than 4,000 units, wrote more than 700 citations for failure to comply with the in-use performance standard and more than 170 for California-based trucks that were not registered.

That amounts to more than $800,000 in penalties, as of early July. After two delays, January marked the first month trucks more than 7 years old were required to be retrofitted with diesel particulate filters or have TRU engines replaced to meet low-emission in-use performance standards.

Despite the efforts of the American Trucking Association, which appealed the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to give the board authority over the Transport Refrigeration Unit Airborne Toxic Control Measure, the board has full power to enforce the regulations. It is stopping trucks at border crossings, at weigh stations and even in shippers’ parking lots.

“Just this morning one of my drivers loading in Oxnard (board inspectors) had just come in and sealed the parking lot and checked every vehicle and every driver’s identity,” said Paul Piazza Sr., president of Minneapolis-based Minnesota Produce Inc. “California is using some harsh tactics to enforce this law, and drivers don’t appreciate the new tactics.”

California product makes up about 90% of the company’s business, Piazza said.

A roadside inspection for a registered vehicle generally takes less than five minutes, but an inspection that involves popping the hood and checking TRUs themselves can take half an hour, said Rod Hill, staff air pollution specialist for the board. Hill was the lead on the rule development for the TRU Airborn Toxic Control Measure, and leads the implementation of the regulation.

Hill said the board’s enforcement agents follow the harvest throughout California to choose its areas to monitor.

“Overall we’re seeing a trend of fewer truckers going to California, either because they don’t have the money to improve or they’ve decided to focus on buying out of areas that don’t have these emission standards,” Piazza said. “To us it just seems a little risky on their part to alienate transportation.”

It’s been rough shipping out of California this summer, Piazza said.

The regulations seem to have an effect on other areas of the trucking business, including the market for used trucks. St. Louis-based United Fruit and Produce Co. is used to buying 3- or 4-year-old trucks secondhand at a better value than new trucks, but it is becoming harder to do so.

“(Used) trucks are scarce because people in California are buying them up and using them out there,” said Charles Gallagher Sr., chairman.

The company does not handle transportation from California with its own trucks, but uses them within a 500-mile radius for its own distribution.

Gallagher said finding trucks to contract always gets more difficult through the summer because the need for refrigerated trucks is higher.

“One of the things we did was monitor the USDA’s trucking industry reports to see if there was a shortage,” Hill said. “We saw a slight shortage, and there’s likely some correlation there.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture publishes a weekly report that includes trucking information, as well as a quarterly report that aggregates weekly report data and adds analysis, said Michael Jarvis, acting director of public affairs for the department’s Agricultural Marketing Service. The next quarterly report is scheduled to publish the first week of August.

The economic burdens the new regulations cause or worsen are reconciled by the health-related benefits of reducing air pollution, said Dimitri Stanich, spokesman for the board.

“The Air Resources Board is required by law to address emissions created in California,” Stanich said. “Diesel particulate matter is listed as a toxic air contaminant and has a causal relationship with lung disease and cancer. We look at the cost and balance with the health benefits.”

While it might be difficult for owners and operators to comply, the board is trying to protect people who live around hubs where trucks are prevalent.

Possible changes

July 27, the board proposed an amendment that would lighten the load on what’s required for trucks by the end of 2010. The proposed amendment, which would apply to model 2003 and older TRUs, would require compliance with level two — or low-emission standards — rather than the current level three — ultra-low emission standards. Hill said it costs at least $4,000 to retrofit an engine to comply with level two standards, while it is at least $6,000 for level three.

“Right now, 2003 model years would have to comply (with level 3) by the end of this year, however, we did have some issues with level three,” Hill said. “Level three will still be required for 2004 model year TRUs by the end of 2011.”

The board is also looking at holding anyone involved in arranging transportation accountable for non-compliant trucks. That could include brokers, wholesalers or any buyer or seller making transportation arrangements, Hill said.

“That’s been requested by a lot of people in California,” Hill said. “A lot of folks call and report when they see their competitors at the loading docks not compliant. I get calls everyday almost.”

Amendments should be up for open comment starting September 29, with the next board meeting Nov. 18.

At least 13 other states, mainly on the East and West Coasts, are looking at adopting similar emission regulations, Hill said.

There is some funding available for owners who want to comply early, but not much, Hill said.

“In general, California policy is we don’t pay people to comply,” Hill said.

Information about funding opportunities, as well as about the requirements themselves and retrofitting options are available at www.arb.gov/diesel/tru.htm.