Yes to cleaner air but at what cost?

As the owner of a small dump truck business based in Dixon, I was trying to do my part to clean the air we all breathe by replacing my outdated truck with a cleaner model.

Because the California Air Resources Board (ARB) is set to vote on a new regulation this December targeting diesel vehicles I wanted to be one step ahead. The proposed rule would impact the almost 1 million trucks and buses used to transport goods and people on California’s roads, highways and farms – including my dump trucks.

Starting in 2010, this proposal would require every diesel truck and bus operating in California today (which according to the ARB includes “those transiting California roadways from other states and countries”) to be replaced or retrofitted. The ARB estimates the cost of this regulation to be more than $5.5 billion.

In order to get ahead of the curve and start cleaning my fleet, we purchased a 2007 model-year truck. But in my line of work, we’re not just talking about going down to the local dealership and picking out a shiny new F-150. Dump trucks are built to last upwards of 20 years and typically cost well over $150,000. We were able to secure $208,000 in financing for the new, cleaner truck through one of the largest equipment financiers in the nation.

What has changed since I bought my truck? California’s diesel truck and bus owners are facing one of the worst economic climates in decades. With the real estate market crashing and construction falling with it, these days my trucks are parked. We’re lucky to work a few days out of the entire month. Like so many business owners in today’s economy, my business is just barely staying afloat. And I’m not alone. Almost 3,000 trucking companies across the United States have declared bankruptcy so far this year.

In addition, many of us are also working to comply with numerous other regulations and laws recently passed by the ARB, the Legislature and other regulatory agencies.

And what about my new, clean dump truck, the one that was going to help my firm start to comply with the impending ARB regulations? As a result of the economic crisis, I was forced into “voluntary repossession” of the truck by the lender. To make things worse, the financier is now saying I owe upwards of $225,000. That would be $17,000 more than I financed. My once-perfect credit score is now shot, and soon I will have to file bankruptcy. I’ll be lucky to keep my house.

While the ARB and a recent Sacramento Bee editorial continue to highlight grants and bond money that is supposedly available to fleet owners to help them replace or retrofit their equipment, they fail to take into account that many financing options for small businesses to access the required matching funds have dried up entirely.

California’s diesel truck and bus owners are committed to improving California’s air quality and we recognize that we must do our part to achieve significant emission reductions. But in order for the regulations to achieve the goal of cleaner air, without putting more small businesses like mine into bankruptcy, we must find common ground.

We hope that this discussion with the ARB includes a wide range of options to help get more financial resources into the system quickly and more flexibility for fleet owners to comply with the regulation.

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