According to a study published in Regulation & Governance, emissions-reducing programs and legislation are not working on a macro level because most fleets do not have the financial resources or motivation to “green” their trucks.

“In the absence of direct regulatory mandates requiring trucking companies to scrap or upgrade older diesel engines, social and political pressures have been insufficient to induce state or national trucking associations to take up that cause,” the report stated. “On the contrary, the trucking associations are lobbying against California’s proposed phase-out regulation for old engines.”

“Compliance costs, regulation and environmental performance: Controlling truck emissions in the U.S.,” authored by Dorothy Thornton and Robert A. Kagan of the University of California at Berkeley and Neil Gunningham of Australian National University, contends that being in a highly competitive market such as trucking makes it difficult for small firms to afford the cost of the best available compliance technologies, while forcing it through legislation might put them out of business.

“With rare exceptions, trucking firms are not obligated to reduce idling or adopt other measures (including fuel efficiency measures) that incrementally reduce emissions,” the authors concluded. “Any rapid improvement of air quality in this sector, therefore, depends on individual firms’ willingness to engage in what regulatory scholars have labeled ‘beyond compliance’ behavior.”

Although engine pollutants are responsible for an average of 2,880 premature deaths per year in California alone, according to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), neither Congress or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have forced owners and operators of heavy-duty diesel trucks to scrap their old engines, instead imposing emissions reduction standards on diesel engine manufacturers. However, the laws “don’t deal with the obvious, hard problem– getting the old, dirtier trucks off the road,” argued the report.

“In effect, therefore, older, dirtier trucks are ‘grandfathered in,’ the report said. “And as noted, diesel engines last a long time. So while some companies buy the greener new model year trucks, there is no restriction on their selling their older (and more polluting) trucks to other truckers, who can sell their still older (and still more polluting) trucks to other trucking companies.

The study looked further into the policy of two major states, Texas and California. Texas has done very little to combat emissions, the authors said, eschewing regulations for a subsidy program using both state and federal funds for fleets that buy environmentally friendly trucks.

California, on the other hand, has adopted tighter standards for new diesel engines; forced fleet owners to perform annual tests to prevent extra emissions that result from poor maintenance; deployed ‘strike teams’ of inspectors to pull over and check diesel-powered trucks; restricted idling; started a phase-out of older vehicles at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and passed regulations to require companies to reduce the average age of their fleets—which has been protested by the California Trucking Association and the American Trucking Assns.

After conducting 16 case studies of individual fleets in California and Texas, the study’s authors found that there is considerable company-level variation in environmental performance, based primarily on economic variables—as “trucking companies that had better environmental performance most often did so as a by-product of actions undertaken primarily for economic reasons, such as avoiding the cost of external repair services, late delivery penalties, customer complaints about reliability, and rising prices for fuel.”

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