Los Angeles Times

It’s past time to smog-check dirty diesel trucks in state

California is set to move forward with its biggest pollution-cutting regulation in decades — finally.


For decades California has required owners of older cars to pass periodic tailpipe emissions tests in order to register their vehicles. But there is no smog check program for the more than 1 million heavy-duty diesel trucks operating in the state, even though they spew far more health-damaging air pollution.

But state regulators are finally moving to fix that. The Air Resources Board is set to vote next week on rules that will create a truck smog check program and require diesel-fueled big rigs to pass semiannual tests in order to drive on California roads.

It can’t happen soon enough. Virtually all heavy-duty trucks in California are diesel-fueled, and their lung-damaging exhaust causes health and air quality impacts far out of proportion with their numbers. Trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles make up about 3% of the vehicles on California roads, but they spew more than half of its on-road smog-forming pollution.

Diesel exhaust is one of the state’s biggest environmen­tal health hazards, driving up asthma and cancer rates and shortening people’s lives in communitie­s near ports, warehouses, freeways and other transporta­tion corridors. Pollution-choked neighborho­ods are in desperate need of air quality improvemen­ts at a time when the booming goods movement industry is clogging roadways with trucks and smog levels have been getting worse.

Much like with cars, the truck smog check program is not designed to ensnare the vast majority of truckers whose vehicles are in compliance and in good working order, but would instead target gross polluters that are most responsibl­e for fouling the air.

Regulators say most of the state’s truck pollution is coming from about 10% of vehicles that have something wrong with their emissions controls. It’s important to level the playing field and make sure our state no longer offers safe harbor to truck owners who have obtained an unfair advantage by failing to maintain their rigs or invest in required pollution controls.

The benefits of going after a relatively small number of polluters are enormous. Putting in place a smog check, as required under legislatio­n by state Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino) that Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law in 2019, would reduce more pollution than any state emissions rule since 2008 and bring enormous health benefits in the coming decades, including the prevention of more than 7,000 early deaths and thousands of emergency room visits. The greatest impacts would be in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley, where millions of residents suffer from smog and soot levels that routinely violate federal health standards.

Smog checks for trucks are such a no-brainer that in 2019 Newsom and legislator­s were surprised to learn they weren’t already required, according to environmen­tal advocates who for years pushed the state to put them in place. So why has it taken so long? Blame politics, lagging technology or perhaps timid regulators. Diesel trucks have trailed far behind passenger vehicles in their pollution controls. Catalytic converters, for example, didn’t come standard in trucks until 2010. And officials have been wary of going too hard on the economical­ly vital trucking industry, which has pushed back mightily in response to past air quality rules.

To clean smog and slow climate change, California ultimately needs to eliminate truck emissions entirely. The Air Resources Board made an important step in that direction last year, adopting a firstof-its-kind rule requiring that all trucks sold in the state be zeroemissi­on by 2045.

But in the meantime, regulators must do everything they can to ensure the trucks that are on the road today are as clean as they were designed to be.

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