Put the Brakes on Mandate that’s Unfair to California Truckers

Susan Shelley

Columnist and member of the editorial board of the Southern California News Group, and the author of the book, “How Trump Won.”


Senate Democrats gave U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch a hard time over what’s become known as “The Case of the Frozen Trucker.” One cold night on a highway in Illinois, the brakes on trucker Alphonse Maddin’s trailer froze, and he nearly froze while waiting for help to arrive. After three hours, Maddin unhitched the trailer and drove away, despite his employer’s order to stay with the cargo.

Gorsuch wrote that the employer had the legal right to fire the driver, but the senators said a trucker shouldn’t have to risk death on the road just to keep his job.

Something similar is going on in California, except the risk isn’t from freezing, it’s from burning.

In 2007, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) required the installation of an anti-pollution device called a diesel particulate filter on engines in trucks, buses and motor coaches. But truckers say the devices cause catastrophic engine damage and sudden fires.

Last November, CARB officials finally admitted that the DPF, as designed, causes severe engine damage in ordinary use. And that’s when the Alliance for California Business, which tracks and investigates DPF-related fires, filed its second lawsuit challenging the rules requiring the filters. The suit was joined by Associated California Loggers and five individuals.

Diesel particulate filters, which cost thousands of dollars, work by trapping soot and occasionally going through a cleaning cycle called “regeneration” at temperatures over 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit. The extreme heat and the resulting back pressure in the engine when the DPF becomes clogged with soot, affecting the air flow, can destroy the engine and even cause it to burst into flames, the lawsuit says.

An investigative officer with Cal Fire told the Alliance that as many as 10 fire incidents in California may have resulted from DPFs, including a recent fire in San Juan Bautista that spread from the roadside and burned nearby homes.

In one 2015 incident in Orange County, a school bus carrying 30 high school students experienced a sudden loss of power, then a fire that started in the engine compartment, causing flames and smoke to erupt from under the back of the bus. These are “all indications that the DPF device was a likely cause,” the lawsuit states.

One small trucking company near Chico is battling regulators for the right to stay in business after losing two engines to damage from DPF devices and seeing a third truck burst into flames.

“WE CANNOT and will not risk the safety of our drivers or the community at large by placing ‘compliant filters’ on our trucks,” wrote an executive of Capay Delivery Service, which employs 100 people, in a letter to the Air Resources Board.

CARB offered the company two other options: buy new trucks, or stop operating the older ones.

“The result would be certain bankruptcy,” the company wrote, pleading for a five-year extension of its compliance deadline, which is year-end 2017.

Capay’s trucks are compliant with the regulations in effect when they were purchased. Imagine buying a new car and a year later being told by the DMV that you must install a dangerous filter, buy a new car, or give up driving.

The Alliance’s lawsuit asks for the suspension of enforcement of the DPF requirement until the devices undergo “comprehensive, peer-reviewed safety testing and are proven to be safe and mechanically reliable.”

CARB should do that now. Truckers shouldn’t have to risk death on the road just to keep their jobs.

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