published on April 8, 2016 - 7:35 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff
A Golden State truckers’ group is continuing to pressure the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to repeal a controversial regulation requiring all older buses and heavy trucks operating in the state be retrofitted with a pollution-control device known as a diesel particulate filter.

The Alliance for California Business, which filed a lawsuit against CARB over the regulation in November 2013, last month asked a Glenn County Superior Court judge to reconsider an earlier motion to dismiss the case and instead allow the lawsuit to proceed to trial.

“The Alliance is prepared to prove at trial that the diesel particulate filter (DPF), when it is working exactly as designed and intended, is mechanically unreliable, damages diesel engines and endangers California residents,” said Bud Caldwell, owner of Northgate Petroleum in Chico and president of the nonprofit Alliance.

A trucking industry veteran and a former “kingpin” for the California Truckers Association, Caldwell formed the Alliance in 2013 “to lead the charge” against mandatory DPF laws in California, the only state that currently requires operators of older trucks and buses to use the pollution-control devices.

The Business Journal first reported on the Alliance’s effort to repeal the DPF regulation in its July 17, 2015 edition.

“This case really matters,” Caldwell said. “The Alliance sued CARB to keep safe not only its members but also all California truck and bus owners, drivers, passengers and residents.”

“We will also demonstrate [at trial] that the DPF violates specific state and federal laws forbidding the operation of vehicles on roads and highways that present precisely the kind of safety risk presented by the DPF requirement,” he added.

While the group blames the filters for more than 30 recent truck fires in California, in just the last few months, Caldwell said Alliance members have become particularly concerned about the danger DPFs pose to school buses — and their young occupants.

“Evidence suggests that DPF devices are linked to a myriad of devastating bus fires in recent years, posing a risk to not only bus operators, but also to passengers, to those in close proximity to buses as well as to the general public,” Caldwell said. “In many cases, these fires have resulted in the total destruction of the vehicle.”

Caldwell added that one thing all of the recent bus fires have in common is that “they involved buses with a DPF filter component installed on them, and the fires appeared to start in the engine compartment and then quickly spread to the

passenger area, often in a matter of minutes.”

The controversy surrounding DPFs began in December 2008 when CARB established the ‘California Statewide Truck and Bus Rule,’ which requires pre-2007 on-road diesel heavy trucks and buses operating in California to be “retrofitted, repowered or replaced to reduce particulate matter emissions by at least 85 percent.”

In order to decrease sooty emissions, DPFs are standard equipment on newer truck and bus engines but have to be installed — retrofitted — onto older diesel engines. Truckers say the filters, which can reach temperatures exceeding 600 degrees Celsius when an engine is operating, are prone to clogging with unburned fuel or accumulated ash — and then catching fire.

Lawyers representing CARB argue the fires are caused by engine malfunctions and/or improper maintenance.

Caldwell views the situation much differently.

“CARB has now admitted that the DPF, as designed and under ordinary operating conditions, predictably damages engines and unpredictably presents a risk of explosive fires,” he said this week. “CARB should do the right thing and issue an immediate recall process in the interest of public safety. In the meantime, the Alliance is hopeful that the Court will not close the courthouse doors before giving [us] the chance to present evidence to support our contention that DPF devices are dangerous and have no place on California roads.”

Karen Caesar, an information officer for CARB, said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

But citing the judge’s March 7, 2016 decision ruling in favor of the Air Board in the original lawsuit, Caesar added, “The [DPF] regulations and our programs have abundant safety features built into them.”

The Alliance’s latest legal effort, Caldwell said, is based on “new and different facts and law that the Alliance could not have reasonably discovered or presented earlier.”

“The combination of heat, backpressure and deteriorating DPF component parts —such as the filter substrate and sensors required to warn drivers of potentially catastrophic engine failures — renders California trucks and buses equipped with a DPF device a constant and unpredictable fire hazard on California highways,” the Alliance motion states. “CARB’s so-called safety regulations have not and cannot eliminate the imminent danger that the DPF presents to truck and bus drivers, passengers, and those who live near public roads and highways.”

At a hearing scheduled for April 15 in Glenn County Superior Court in Willows, a judge will once again consider the Alliance’s latest request to repeal CARB’s DPF regulations.

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