Panel: Grace Period for Diesel Truck Rule Broke California Law

FRESNO, Calif. (CN) – The California Air Resources Board made several errors in adopting modifications to rules regarding diesel emissions by trucks and buses when it gave small fleet owners more time to comply with air-quality regulations.

The board in 2008 adopted the nation’s toughest diesel emissions regulations, to get older trucks off the road and reduce health risks from soot and smog. It relaxed the rules in 2010 and 2014.

The California Trucking Association and the John R. Lawson Rock and Oil trucking company sued the air board over its 2014 decision to delay emissions rules for smaller trucking firms that had pleaded for more time.

The trucking association claims the air board violated the Administrative Procedures Act and the California Environmental Quality Act in adopting the amendments.

Truckers who complied with the new regulations are undercut competitively by fleets that have taken advantage of the extended timeframe, the association said.

Fresno County Judge Mark Snauffer agreed, finding the air regulators did ignore concerns that their decision would create unfair competition. The air board “did not undertake even a cursory analysis of the potential economic effects of the amendments on trucking companies that had already complied with the regulation,” Snauffer wrote.

He also found that the air board did not consider the environmental consequences of its decision.

Defendant Richard Corey, chief of the air board, said Snauffer’s judgment adversely affected the smaller, independent owners, hindering efforts to help the “little guys” play catch up by giving them an extension to buy or upgrade their equipment.

But in an opinion issued Wednesday, the Fifth Appellate District upheld Snauffer’s ruling and agreed the air board violated the Administrative Procedures Act and the California Environmental Quality Act, albeit to a lesser extent than Snauffer found.

“The desire to relieve burdens on small businesses necessarily entails a consideration of how those small businesses are impacted by regulations relative to larger in-state businesses that will not feel the impact of such regulations at the same scale,” Justice Jennifer Detjen wrote for the 3-judge panel. “We therefore conclude the board was not permitted under the statutory scheme to ignore evidence of impacts to specific segments of businesses already doing business in California from benefits to other instate businesses when proceeding under the Administrative Procedures Act.

“If the board’s proposed regulatory amendments placed the state’s thumb on the scale for one group of in-state businesses over another, it needed to consider that impact,” Detjen added.

As for violations of CEQA, the panel agreed the board should not have ignored even temporary increases in pollution as the result of the delay.

“The board abused its discretion in issuing the functional equivalent of a negative declaration,” Detjen wrote.

But the panel discounted the trucking companies’ position that the air board had, in deciding on a pollution baseline, “created a fictional universe in which the existing regulations did not exist” by measuring the current environment without accounting for future reductions in pollution brought about by the existing regulations.

“We do not agree with respondents that the board either adopted a baseline that was inconsistent with CEQA or erroneously measured the existing conditions by excluding future expected declines,” Detjen wrote for the panel. “Rather, we conclude the board was within its discretion to adopt a baseline calculation that measured the current environment without further reducing figures based on regulations that should have taken effect during the course of the analysis.”

The parties could not be reached for comment on the appellate ruling.

Acting Presiding Justice Hubert Levy and Justice Charles Poochigian joined Detjen’s opinion.

 

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