Supreme Court Overturns Calif. Diesel Restrictions

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 yesterday that Southern California’s clean air agency does not have the right to implement rules, which were enforced beginning in 2000, that prohibit private fleets from leasing or purchasing vehicles equipped with diesel engines that meet federal and state regulations. The regional rules effectively limited heavy-duty vehicle purchases to those equipped with engines

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 yesterday that Southern California’s clean air agency does not have the right to implement rules, which were enforced beginning in 2000, that prohibit private fleets from leasing or purchasing vehicles equipped with diesel engines that meet federal and state regulations. The regional rules effectively limited heavy-duty vehicle purchases to those equipped with engines that use alternative fuels, such as natural gas.

The Engine Manufacturer’s Assn. challenged the rules, asserting that they violate the federal Clean Air Act (CAA), which prohibits local agencies from regulating emissions of engines. It was the Court’s decision that the rules do not infringe upon “standards,” because they apply to vehicle purchases, as opposed to its manufacturing and sales.

Though in that regard the rules are in compliance with CAA, the Court’s opinion was “a manufacturer’s right to sell federally approved vehicles is meaningless absent a purchaser’s right to buy them.”

Therefore, the rules overstep the standards set by Congress and California, thus the rules should not apply to private fleets.

“If one state or political subdivision may enact such rules, then so may any other; and at the end the result would undo Congress’s carefully calibrated regulatory scheme,” said Justice Antonin Scalia in a written statement.

The rules, which were instituted by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), were an effort to bring its region in compliance with federal clean air standards. SCAQMD is responsible for overseeing air quality in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange Counties, a region that has among the nation’s most polluted air.

Since the rules came into effect, public and private fleets in the region have been permitted only to purchase or lease SCAQMD-approved vehicles. This effectively forced fleet owners to purchase natural gas-powered vehicles, Allen Schaeffer, executive director of Diesel Technology Forum, told Fleet Owner.

“The good news is that fleets operating along the South Coast now have a choice to get the technology that fits their needs,” Schaeffer said.

Since the rules have been in place, the California Trucking Assn. and engine manufacturers have criticized the SCAQMD policies, contending the rules are actually hurting the environment.

“The new rules completely stopped fleet turnover. What fleet owners did when the rule was in place was wait to see what would happen,” Stephanie Williams, senior vp of the California Trucking Assn. told Fleet Owner. “They had good intentions, but their policies weren’t well-implemented.”

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