I’ve been driving an 18-wheeler for most of my life. Back in the 1960s, when my family lived in Los Angeles, I would drive down the hill, as we truckers call it, into the L.A. Basin, and look out over a sea of dense grey pollution. We moved because of it. Over the years, I watched that pollution change, grow lighter and clearer because of state regulations that cleaned up car exhaust. It is time the state do the same thing for trucks.
Heavy-duty diesel trucks are the single largest source of toxic diesel pollution in California, responsible annually for 4,500 premature deaths and an economic cost of $40 billion from lost days at work & school, health care and deaths, according to the California Air Resources Board (CARB). I drive up and down the San Joaquin Valley almost every day of the year. There are more and more trucks on our highways because our population is growing and demanding more freight. That is only going to get worse. Heavy-duty trucks and other large diesel vehicles drive about 47 million miles per day. The number of trucks and miles traveled per day is expected to almost double by 2020. If we do not clean up these trucks now, our children and grandchildren will suffer even greater health problems.
I, and many of my friends who drive trucks too, support California’s regulation to clean up heavy-duty diesel trucks. Truckers have a much higher rate of lung and heart disease than most people because of their increased exposure to diesel soot. A study of the trucking industry found that truck drivers have an excess lifetime cancer risk, sometimes as high as 10 times above what the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration considers acceptable. Long-haul truck drivers with the longest driving records are 1.5 to 2 times as likely as workers not exposed to diesel exhaust to develop lung cancer during their lives.
But it isn’t just truck drivers who are exposed. Nearly 1 million Californians live within 300 feet of a freeway and nearly half of all Californians live within 1 mile of a freeway. These are diesel hotspots where the cancer risk is very high, not to mention heart and lung damage.
Some of my fellow drivers worry about how to pay to clean up their trucks. They point to the credit crunch and say now it not the time. In fact, the rule doesn’t kick in until 2010, by which time credit will be flowing. And, because this rule is so important to public health, California has dedicated money to help truck owners retrofit and replace vehicles. Approximately $125,000,000 of funding is available in 2008 to replace, repower or retrofit (non-port) heavy-duty trucks, and there are similar amounts expected over the next three years. The newly formed Air Quality Improvement Program will provide an additional $50 million for grants and loans to fund clean vehicle equipment projects. As for me — I am going to buy a new truck. Diesel prices are coming back up, and at $4 a gallon, the improved gas mileage of a new truck will cover my finance payments every month.
I want California to pass the heavy duty diesel rule because I want to give my kids and my grandkids cleaner air and a healthier future. It can be done. It must be done now. We don’t have time to delay.