Next year the California Air Resources Board (CARB) will consider – emphasis on “consider”--making limited revisions to its sweeping diesel retrofit rule to “provide truck fleets more flexibility in cleaning up their diesel emissions under the state's Truck and Bus Rule that was adopted in December of last year, in light of the recession's effect on the industry.”

However, CARB unequivocally stated “implementation of the rule will continue to be carried out during this period.” As it now stands, the rule, which will be phased-in, will begin requiring truck owners to install diesel exhaust filters on their rigs by Jan. 1, 2011, with nearly all vehicles to be upgraded by 2014.

The aim of the rule is to lower greenhouse gas emissions and improve fuel economy. To explain why it will consider somehow making the rule more “flexible,” CARB only stated that its staff has “demonstrated that the down economy has reduced the amount of time trucks have operated, thus reducing harmful diesel emissions that would have occurred during normal economic times.”

In a statement released after CARB’s board meeting, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger threw his support behind at least reconsideration of the rule. "With numerous studies and overwhelming evidence on this topic, it is clear responsible action is needed to improve our air quality and protect the health of all Californians,” the governor said. “And, as we move forward with these necessary environmental actions, I am committed to ensuring that our economy is protected. That is why I have directed my Administration to work with the board towards a solution that will help small and mid-size companies meet these important air quality regulations without moving back the final 2014 implementation date. I am confident that Chair Nichols and the board will continue to rely on the science in furthering California's environmental goals and protecting our economy at the same time."

CARB also reacted to the scandal that the principal author of the supporting health study for the rule had presented false credentials. CARB said it has “directed staff to withdraw and redo the health report that carried Hien Tran's name since it was learned last year that he falsely claimed he held a PhD in statistics from UC Davis.” However, CARB said nothing to indicate the “redo” would change the conclusions of the study let alone that it would change any aspect of the rule.

"With today's set of actions, we confidently set out to revalidate the science supporting our rules and set up a process to allow for more flexibility for small businesses in the regulation given the down economy," CARB Chairman Mary D. Nichols said. "We take the employee misconduct very seriously, but it should not affect an extremely important public health measure that has been extensively reviewed throughout the scientific community. We have tightened up our procedures to ensure an incident like this never happens again."

Indeed, CARB also noted in its news release issued on the actions that it “neglected to second a motion by Board Members John Telles, who wanted to repeal the diesel rule after learning of a Tran's misconduct.”

“Nothing CARB did yesterday changes anything about the rule, “ Clayton Boyce, vp of public affairs for the American Trucking Assns. (ATA), told FleetOwner. “That will be decided in April. And it is iffy even then that anything will be changed, especially if the economy recovers and the [economic] situation [for fleets] can be seen as improved. So, the board may see no reason to relax the rules then.

“As for the [ordered] redo of the health assessment, I expect the results will remain the same,” he continued. “Some [CARB] members and staffers have indicated they will redo report but it will have the same results.”

Boyce said CARB was “under pressure yesterday for two things—the tainted health report and how far ahead [their rules are] of the economy. By April, there is a good chance board will make no changes, especially with the enforcement window that much closer.”

He added that ATA is hopeful the general public will not perceive CARB’s actions as the result of the trucking industry pushing for any delay in implementing the new rule.