New environmental rules in California are bearing down hard on long-haul truckers, and a nonprofit shop in Medford, sponsored by Rogue Valley Council of Governments, is educating truck owners about their options and helping them find financing to keep going.
The shop, Cascade Sierra Solutions, is behind the Pear Tree truck stop in Phoenix. It offers classes — with free lunch — for drivers and fleet owners, detailing how to become "Cal compliant" by the end of the year or face $1,000-a-day fines and possible impoundment of vehicles, says CSS technical adviser Scott Cummings.
The main financial chasm that truckers face, if they want to drive in California, is retrofitting a "diesel particulate filter" onto their exhaust pipes, at a cost of $15,000 to $40,000.
"We try to offer them a way out. It's a lot of bad news for them. The choice is compliance or go out of business or stay out of California or buy newer trucks, which have the new technology," says Cummings.
Using a 2006 grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, CSS has offered loans to retrofit 12,000 semitrailers with the filters and other technology, but the funds ran out at the end of 2012, he notes.
"We saved 53 million gallons of diesel fuel," he says, "but we have no in-house financing now. The EPA is trying to get more funds, but we don't know when."
Cascade Sierra Solutions was created by a 2009 grant of $280,000 from RVCOG.
Tom Bessette, an owner of Alexander Dairy in Crescent City, was in Phoenix for a CSS class Wednesday. Retrofitting, he says, is "not feasible," because the new technology doesn't work on old rigs, so they would face frequent filter replacement at $2,500 a whack.
"We're forced to buy newer trucks made since 2008. We're going to have to spend $100,000. They should allow a gradual phase-out of old trucks, but this is how California works. We're farmers. We can't pass costs along on milk. We have a lot of money invested in our older trucks, but we've got to let them go. They're going to be totally junked."
Besides educating truckers about compliance, CSS teaches about state, federal and local initiatives and grants, and about banks willing to lend for truck upgrades, says Joel Smith, CSS consultant in Eugene.
The group's work isn't just about exhaust and pollution, he adds. It can incorporate aerodynamic features, tires and any technologies that lower fuel consumption, thus shrinking a trucker's carbon footprint.
"The goals are compliance and sustainability," says Smith. "You need fuel efficiency to lower emissions, and that means less truck maintenance so trucks last longer. Fuel efficiency is what puts dollars in your pocket. We're educating and finding government incentives to move to alternate fuels, like (natural gas) and eventually electronic vehicles powered by batteries."
Oregon's rules on commercial truck exhausts are quite a bit less strict than California's, says Jones, but Oregon and the rest of the country will come into line with the Golden State by 2025.
"Absolutely, it's a big hardship to the trucking industry. It's going to cost lots of money," says Jones, noting that CSS helps truckers pencil out the options.
"If you're going to use a truck for only two more years, it doesn't make sense to upgrade when a newer truck will last you five years and it already comes with the DPF (diesel particulate filter)."
Inspecting one of the DPF devices at CSS before a class, Jeff Kendle, president of Kendle Trucking of Medford, says he doesn't like the options — buy newer trucks, shut down or not run in California.
"Oregon might not require it now, but it's coming at some point," says Kendle. "Our oldest truck is an '88, and it runs fine. In years past, when they made us install (such technologies), the trucks wouldn't run right, so we would remove them. You can't do that now."
Lynette Bristow, office administrator of Old Land Distributing in Central Point, said she's taking the class to advise her company president, because 60 percent of their business is in California. Compliance, she adds, will bring new costs that must be added into rates.
"It's confusing, it's expensive and it's inevitable," says Bristow. The company bought new trailers, which have diesel-powered coolers, at a cost of $500,000 and is facing replacement of 14 trucks at $150,000 each.
Wayne Rohde of R.W. Jacks Trucking in Ruch notes, "We've got nine trucks and haul logs into California. You pretty much have to comply."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at email@example.com.