UPDATE: SB 210 has cleared the Senate. Its next big stop is in the Assembly Transportation Committee, most likely early next month. It’s imperative that state legislators send this bill to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who made clean air one of the centerpieces of his 2018 campaign. Please support our efforts to pass this legislation.
San Francisco Chronicle
OPINION // EDITORIALS
Chronicle Editorial Board June 20, 2019
Californians who endure the hassle and expense of having their vehicles smog-checked every other year might be surprised and irritated to learn that those big-rig diesels are exempt from such thorough scrutiny. Residents near ports, rail yards, warehouse hubs or highways with heavy truck traffic who are breathing the exhaust might be even more perturbed to know about the loophole in state law.
Senate Bill 210, authored by Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino (San Bernardino County), would close that gaping loophole. It would create a comprehensive inspection similar to the 35-year-old smog check on passenger vehicles for diesel trucks weighing more than 14,000 pounds. The smog certification would apply not only to heavy-duty trucks registered within the state, but to those that cross our borders.
“This is the most important air quality bill of the year,” said Bill Magavern, policy director for the Coalition for Clean Air.
Finally, compliance with clean-air standards would no longer be voluntary and subject to self reporting or notoriously spotty inspections of big rigs that are obviously spewing pollutants. It would come down to this: If you want to operate a heavy-duty truck in this state, it must meet emissions standards.
That concept should come across as neither novel nor unreasonable to the millions of California car and light-truck owners who know that they cannot obtain a vehicle registration without passing a smog test. Big rigs should be subjected to no less of a standard.
The push for SB210 has all the expected allies in the environmental and health communities: Sierra Club, American Lung Association, League of Conservation Voters, Public Health Institute. The list goes on.
The opposition list is shorter, however well connected. The California Trucking Association is worried about the potential of exorbitant fees; the California Farm Bureau Federation is worried about the tight timeline for compliance and how it might affect harvest schedules.
In our view, there is reasonable room for compromise on each concern. The essential goal is that California move forward with legislation to ensure that big rigs that are not meeting clear-air standards either take steps to meet them or get off our roads.
Will Barrett, director of clean-air advocacy for the American Lung Association, said “significant local health issues” are associated with diesel exhaust. It contains more than 40 known cancer-causing substances, including volatile organic compounds and NOx, the main ingredients in smog.
Beyond that, the fine particulates in diesel exhaust contribute to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. The California Air Resources Board has projected that SB210 would prevent the release of 93,000 tons of NOx between 2023 and 2031. That would be comparable to taking 145,000 heavy-duty diesels off the road.
The concern about diesel exhaust is not new. It has been linked to higher rates of asthma and other respiratory issues in the lower-income communities that tend to surround truck delivery points. Elevated exposures to diesel exhaust have been linked to increased hospitalizations, chronic lung and heart disease and premature deaths.
So SB210 is not only a issue of fairness for the vehicle owners who have been complying with California’s clean-air laws. It is a matter of environmental justice for the residents who are left to breathe these diesel fumes.
In reality, the inspection of diesel rigs should have been mandated two years ago with the passage of the landmark Senate Bill 1 to set California on course to become a national leader in combatting climate change. But the trucking industry managed to squeeze in the “dirty diesel loophole” that effectively tied the hands of state or local regulators to require the cleanup of widely defined “commercial motor vehicles.”
SB210 has cleared the Senate. Its next big stop is in the Assembly Transportation Committee, most likely early next month. It’s imperative that state legislators send this bill to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who made clean air one of the centerpieces of his 2018 campaign. He should sign this bill into law.
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