The Environmental Trade-Off for Raising California's Fuel Taxes

Come November 1, gasoline and diesel taxes will increase by 12 and 20 cents per gallon, respectively, in California, providing badly needed revenue to repair roads, bridges, and improve transit, but truck pollution loophole will still foul the air.
April 27, 2017, 8am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Olin Viydo

After Gov. Jerry Brown signs the Road Repair and Accountability Act into law as expected, "owners of trucks that currently meet California rules cannot be required to retire or upgrade their rigs until their machines are either 13 years old or have traveled at least 800,000 miles," reports David Danelski, an investigative and environmental reporter for The Press-Enterprise newspaper in Riverside, California.

As posted earlier, the main challenge that faced the governor and Democratic leadership pushing the controversial transportation funding bill was reaching the two-thirds supermajority of supporters needed in both legislative chambers. Without the trucking emissions provision in "SEC. 18. Section 43021" in SB 1, leaders felt it would be impossible.

Danelski presents two opposing viewpoints on how that controversial provision will affect air quality.

Tremendous setback to air quality improvement efforts, particularly in Southern California.

"Diesel trucks are the largest source of smog-forming nitrogen oxides in Southern California, accounting for more than 25 percent of emissions," notes Danelski.

You can’t take the largest source off the table,” said Dr. Joseph Lyou, a member of the South Coast Air Quality Management District board and president of the Coalition for Clean Air who was appointed to the board by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “How can you possibly make that up?”

Furthermore, indirect source emission "rules now under consideration that would require seaports, rail yards, warehouse-distribution centers and government fleets to use cleaner trucks would be more vulnerable to legal challenges, the regional air-quality officials said."

On the opposing side, state transportation officials believe that "SB 1 will reduce overall truck emissions because the legislation requires the state Department of Motor Vehicles to enforce existing rules that require trucks now operating to meet the 2010 standard for new trucks within the next six years." See "SEC. 45. Section 4000.15" of the bill's text.

Translation: if the truck doesn't meet emissions standards now, the enforcement becomes more rigorous, but if trucks are now compliant with the California Air Resources Board's Truck and Bus Rule, they enjoy great financial savings at the expense of increased diesel emissions in later years.

In summary,  similar to the $1 billion in side deals needed to woo just a few reluctant legislators, infrastructure won-out over public health due to the state constitution's onerous requirements regulating bills that increase taxes.

Hat tip to MTC-ABAG Library.

Full Story:
Published on Sunday, April 23, 2017 in The Press-Enterprise
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