Fresno doctor wants truck air rules suspended

Staff member who lied about his training helped with research.

SACRAMENTO -- A Valley representative on the state air board wants the board to suspend new pollution rules for trucks because they rely on research from a staff member who lied about his credentials.

California Air Resources Board member Dr. John Telles of Fresno voted for the landmark regulations a year ago. But months later he found out that the lead author of a report on health effects of soot falsely claimed to have a doctorate in statistics from University of California at Davis. Hien Tran later confessed that he obtained an online degree from Thornhill University, state documents say.

"Failure to reveal this information to the board prior to the vote not only casts a doubt upon the legitimacy of the truck rule but also upon the legitimacy of [the California Air Resources Board] itself," Telles wrote in a Nov. 16 letter to Ellen Peter, the board's chief counsel.

In an e-mail to Telles, board chairwoman Mary Nichols said she was aware before the vote that Tran had misrepresented his credentials. She downplayed his role -- noting his work was reviewed by others -- but said "it was a mistake not to have informed you and the rest of the board about this issue."

Peter also responded to Telles, telling him in a letter that the board met procedural requirements and the "legitimacy of the truck rule is not undercut."

But Telles is not satisfied.

"I voted for the truck rule because I thought it was a good idea, but I don't think it's a good idea to not have all the information," he said in an interview. The board should "temporarily set aside the truck rule until this gets worked out," he said -- adding that he might make the request at a board meeting next week. The regulations, approved in December 2008, require owners of older trucks to install pollution filters starting next year. Beginning in 2013, owners must replace older trucks with 2010 or newer models.

The regulations drew praise from environmentalists and some asthma sufferers in the Valley, who blame truck pollution for health problems. But the trucking industry lobbied against the rules, saying they could not afford to buy the smog controls or new rigs during a recession.

Big diesel trucks are a major contributor to soot pollution -- known as particulate matter -- and most trucks on the road today have few emissions controls or none, according to the Air Resources Board.

The report Tran assembled blamed particulate matter for thousands of premature deaths statewide annually.

In his letter, Telles said he found out in September that Tran did not hold a University of California degree when the issue came up in public testimony. Telles spent hours researching the matter. He requested internal documents and discovered that Tran confessed the misrepresentation to air board executives on Dec. 10 -- the day before deliberations on the truck rule began.

Earlier in 2008, Dr. S. Stanley Young, of the National Institute of Statistical Sciences, sent a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger questioning Tran's report, saying "none of the authors are professional statisticians."

Linda Adams, the governor's Secretary for Environmental Protection, defended the report in part by citing Tran's University of California degree.

Tran has since been demoted and was suspended for 60 days without pay as punishment for the misrepresentation, said air board spokesman Leo Kay.

In her e-mail to Telles, Nichols said Tran was "not the source of any original research, but really just a compiler."

Telles, a cardiologist, said he doesn't dispute the science. But he wants the report reviewed by researchers who were not involved the first time.

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