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New air quality requirements put a strain on smaller trucking companies

The California Air Resources Board has adopted a policy aimed at removing diesel and combustion engine trucks from California roads by 2045, and the shift is hitting smaller companies hard.
Posted at 6:05 PM, May 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-19 01:26:13-04

BAKERSFIELD, Cailf. (KERO) — Another day, another regulation. That's what the new California diesel engine ban feels like to Johnny Olaguez, owner of Olaguez, Inc., a local trucking company.

"The trucking side, it's really hard," said Olaguez. "It's hard because you do everything you can and you're like…" He trails off in frustration.

Olaguez is talking about the California Air Resources Board's decision in April to approve regulations that will end the sale of traditional diesel trucks or combustion trucks in California by 2036. CARB made the move with the expectation that it will help with air quality and combat climate change.

California is the first state to approve such a measure, in line with the state's goal of 100 percent zero-emissions heavy-duty trucks on California roads by 2045.

Olaguez says he understands that the regulations will help the environment, but it's hurting his business.

"When you're phasing out those diesel trucks, what you're doing is you're creating a higher barrier to entry for the trucking industry or for that truck driver that was trying to go into another industry," said Olaguez.

According to Olaguez, the implementation of the new rule coming right after an already-challenging year due to the winter and spring storms has hit his business hard.

"From January to basically… I want to say early March. Remember the rainstorms and all that? We didn't move," said Olaguez.

Olaguez says he's tried increasing his prices for hauling, but that's easier said than done.

"What I'm trying to do is basically keep up. Get better rates from my customers, which means higher prices for the hauling, but a lot of those [customers] don't want to pay, and that's been really difficult," said Olaguez.

Sidney Vergis, Division Chief with the California Air Resources Board, says the goal of the change is to help with the environment.

"We have some pretty significant air quality problems in California and the impacts of combustion really continue to fall heavily on the most low-income communities," said Vergis. "Particularly, those burdens are really felt in the San Joaquin Valley."

Vergis adds that while zero-emissions big rig trucks are expensive, the cost will even out in the long run.

"The Advanced Clean Fleets regulation is expected to save $26 billion in terms of statewide health benefits from curbing the rollout of criteria pollutant emissions in the field, and will result in a net cost savings to fleets of $48 billion dollars," said Vergis.

However, Olaguez says that while this may work for bigger companies, it doesn't work for smaller companies like his, and while he understands the regulation will help the environment, he believes the infrastructure is not there to completely strip away diesel trucks.

Either way, Olaguez says he's now started a new business model in order to try and stay afloat.

"Turns out the air resources board wants to do opacity testing. I have trucks that are being heavily regulated, so why don't I become one of those guys too that regulates?" said Olaguez. "Now, I can do my own opacity testing, as well as for everyone else in town."

Olaguez' new business is called Higgs Fleet Services, where he helps with opacity testing. He says that starting next year, CARB will be requiring this testing twice a year.

For more information about CARB's regulations and resources for drivers and truck owners on how to stay in compliance, please visit The Truckstop, the official California trucking information clearinghouse.

In the end, Olaguez says all he can do is keep up with the changes because he knows they need to happen.

"For the most part, I would say that what the air resources board is doing is the right thing - because it is," said Olaguez. "We need to clean the air. We have a lot of issues with that. I mean, you're driving down the Grapevine, you can see that."


With all the controversy surrounding the transition from diesel to all-electric trucks, a possible third option, one that uses a combination of hydrogen and oxygen that would satisfy both environmental advocates and the trucking industry, might be flying just under the radar.

PACCAR and Toyota are currently developing and building trucks that run on hydrogen fuel cells. Fuel cell engines use smaller batteries than plug-in electric trucks, and their tanks can be filled to capacity quicker than recharging a battery.

The tanks for a fuel cell truck can be filled in as little as 15 minutes, and auto companies are developing technology that could reduce that refueling time to under 10 minutes.

Trucking officials claim hydrogen fuel cell trucks can also travel farther and pull heavier loads than electric trucks.

Additionally, hydrogen fuel cells are less polluting to the environment than either internal combustion engines or lithium batteries.