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  • Tighter diesel emission plan concerns truckers

    Commercial trucker Tito Mena drives a rig that’ll probably be illegal to operate within a few years.

    If California Air Resource Board officials in October vote to adopt stricter emission rules for most heavy-duty diesel-fueled trucks and buses, Mena will be forced to comply.

    That probably means buying a new rig, which could cost him $150,000. Worse, if the truck he owns now is illegal to run in California, will anybody want to buy it?

    What’s more, Mena figures that new cleanerburning big rig won’t haul the same size load he now pulls across the West. “I can haul 53,000 pounds of hay.

    I will probably have to go down to about 47,000 pounds. So that’s a three-ton difference,” said Mena, owner/operator of TJ Mena Trucking of Colusa. Mena typically makes $100 a ton for hay.

    “I will be making $300 less, but I will be buying the same amount of fuel and all of my other expenses will be the same,” Mena said.

    The second of two public workshops on the proposedqqqqqqqqqq SSSemissions rules comes to Redding on Monday. Shasta Air Quality Management Manager Ross Bell said the first workshop in February drew a packed house.

    Since then, the state has revised the requirement date for engine change-outs to start in 2012 and go through 2017, Bell said. The exact year will depend on the location of the truck fleet and its size.

    The new particulate matter controls for diesel engines is scheduled to start in 2010, Bell said. “Diesel particulate emissions are a big source, not only of particulate matter but also of toxins in our air,” Bell said.

    “These rules are aimed at addressing that.” But the landscape has changed since February. Notably, the price of diesel fuel has skyrocketed to well over $5 a gallon. Factor in the tough economic times, and truckers are wondering: What’s next?

    “We are averaging right nowabout $500 to $700 a day, and that’s not running hard,” Mena said. Gerardo Hernandez, an independent trucker based in Anderson, said he has friends who have gone out of business. Hernandez said the money he makes goes to paying for gas and bills.

    “I am not making a profit,” Hernandez said. “If I had all my equipment paid for, I would park my truck and go drive for somebody else.” Hernandez was hauling landscape rock from Arizona to the San Francisco Bay area earlier this week.

    In Phoenix, he spent $900 to fill up his truck. A year ago, it would have cost him about $600. Hernandez has been driving for 15 years. He spent about five years driving trucks for a company before he went independent in 1997.

    “We’ve had our ups and downs, but nothing compared to right now. . . . I have never seen it this bad,” Hernandez said. Julie Sauls, spokeswoman for the California Trucking Association, said she’s hearing stories of more commercial truckers calling it quits because they can’t afford all the regulations and the cost of fuel.

    “I think the biggest concern is the economic impact to comply with the new rules,” Sauls said. “There is a great level of uncertainty right now as to what folks need to do . . . and whether their equipment will be basically rendered illegal by the rules.”

    Reporter David Benda can be reached at 225-8219 or at dbenda@redding.com.

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