Friday, August 31, 2007

Greenhouse gases and hot air over speed limiters

The Ontario Trucking Association and Canadian Trucking Alliance say that mandatory speed limiters on all heavy trucks would eliminate 140,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year in Ontario.

I bet it’s difficult to come up with a number like that. They are assuming too much about driving habits and speed limiters being a so-called solution to problems.

The vast majority of truckers do not exceed the posted speed limits. Many drivers travel with the flow of traffic. Occasionally, you see a rogue running hell-bent for no good reason, but that’s the exception.

I would like to issue a challenge to the large motor carriers to validate their stats using 2007 numbers that do not predate the introduction of ultra-low sulfur diesel in late 2006.

Prior to ULSD entering the picture – mandating a maximum sulfur content of 15 parts per million – the maximum sulfur content allowed in diesel was 500 ppm. There’s a significant difference there. Prior to that, it was ten times higher.

One truck in 1986 emitted what 35 trucks do today. We all know there are more trucks on today’s highways, so the need to reduce sulfur and greenhouse gas emissions remains important.

But the large motor carrier associations are after public sentiment about greenhouse gases and the big “speeding trucks.”

Speed limiters should be an economic decision by each company and not a government mandate.

If it’s about greenhouse gases, drive efficiently and maintain your filter systems.

Let law enforcement handle the speeders.

That is, unless the government is going to activate speed limiters on all vehicles equally, including the Beemer that passed you yesterday doing 90 mph. You know that would never fly with the automakers or the motoring public.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

My high-CARB diet

I went for a jog the other day in the neighborhood near my house and had a thought while plodding up a steep sidewalk near home, coughing as I watched SUVs, pickups and motorcycles belching up smoke near my path.

Maybe it was allergies, or maybe it was the fact that I’ve been reading and learning more about emissions for stories on the Land Line Web site, but as I made my way up the hill gasp after gasp, I began to wonder how much vehicle exhaust – particularly the cloudy stuff – my already asthmatic lungs were inhaling.

Beginning in the spring, Land Line Managing Editor Sandi Soendker assigned me to the magazine’s emissions beat. After only a few days, it was obvious that emissions talk in the U.S. begins and ends with the California Air Resources Board.

CARB is familiar to most truckers because the agency makes most of the nation’s toughest truck engine regulations. The agency was also featured prominently in the documentary movie “Who Killed the Electric Car,” about GM’s plans for zero-emissions cars after CARB removed a mandate for automakers to introduce battery-powered cars to the general public.

A few weeks ago, we ran a three-part series on CARB and how the agency’s growing influence was accelerated by last year’s passage of California Assembly Bill 32, which made CARB responsible for lowering greenhouse gas emissions that affect climate change and global warming.

Yesterday I spoke with Mary Nichols, CARB’s new chairman, about her recent appointment (July) and about the agency’s direction.

I found Chairman Nichols to be quite intelligent and articulate, and enjoyed hearing some of her answers regarding where CARB is headed and what it’s like working with the Governator.

A former EPA employee and UCLA faculty member, Nichols would be listed atop any who’s who list of environmental policy wonks. Those qualities are likely what made her an attractive appointment for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in early July, when Schwarzenegger quieted many who criticized his green credentials after he fired former CARB Chairman Robert Sawyer.

Responding to a question about whether she wants California wants to be the standard bearer for greenhouse gas emissions rules, Nichols told me the state’s variety and breadth lends itself to being at the forefront of many innovations.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the interview:

“We can lead the way in California, although other countries, particularly some of the European countries like Germany and Great Britain in particular, have already staked out leadership positions in a number of different areas relating to climate challenge, so we can’t claim that California is the first to have discovered this or to have worked on the problem.

“But for a state that has the size, the diversity of economy, the diversity of population, the mix of agriculture and manufacturing, and knowledge industries and high-tech, we definitely are the place that if you can do it here, you can do it anywhere.”

My co-workers tend to believe I’ve spent entirely too much time reading and learning about greenhouse gases, but it seems to me that the entire country has gone green – if in name only.

Public relations and law firms are now emphasizing expertise in marketing and development of the environmental side of business.

Beginning today, the EPA is holding several workshops to consider lowering the federal 8-hour ozone limits to California’s standard by next year.

Next time you’re out and about during the heat of the day and you feel a short breath, take comfort in the fact that it’s not all due to stress from government red tape.

It seems that many in this country won’t be breathing easier until all vehicles are zero-emissions-based.

Back in my day ...

Another week, another heavy object crashing through some poor trucker’s windshield.

This time, it was a bowling ball in Minnesota. You can read the full account here. It was a miracle, but luckily, no one was killed this time around.

Maybe it’s because I’m only about a decade removed from my teen years, but I can still remember pulling some pretty ridiculous pranks when I was growing up. Of course, I’d never incriminate myself, but I definitely knew some guys who’d gotten pretty good at blowing up mailboxes and pulling the old shovel-on-a-rope-on-the-side-of-the-road trick.

And did you know that if you put a car’s axles on blocks so the tires clear the ground by a fraction of an inch, it’ll confuse the owner for at least 10 minutes? Or that a friend leaving his car doors unlocked will result in an entire box of Rice Krispies in the vents and the air conditioning turned to high? (Just FYI – the latter creates one hell of a mess and won’t do much for your friendship, either.)

My wife grew up in the suburbs, and tells me stories of soaping fountains and TP’ing trees. It just goes to show that no matter where you grow up, you’re bound to pull a prank at least once.

Still, there was always a line. For example, every kid – especially those who grew up in fairly rural areas like I did – thought it was fun to “borrow” road signs. But the unspoken rule that everyone knew was that you didn’t remove anything that could cause an accident.

In other words, “No Parking” was free game. “Stop” and “Yield” signs were completely off-limits. No exceptions.

So what’s changed in the last few years? When did kids stop knowing the difference between a questionable prank and attempted murder? Sure, what we – er, my friends – did may have been sophomoric and, in hindsight, a little dangerous if everything had gone completely wrong, but we weren’t tossing potentially lethal objects at other human beings.

I’m not sure where the problem lies or how to fix it. It could be bad parenting, or an overly violent culture, or maybe both. Regardless, it makes me afraid for myself and for other motorists and truckers who have to add “stupid kids” to their laundry list of hazards on the road.

Plus, I’m way too young to be telling “back in my day” stories. So knock it off, kids. You’re making me feel old.

One foot in front of the other

Each year I’m charged with putting together a guide for the October issue of the magazine that is intended to be a one-stop shop for OOIDA members, other truckers, their families and friends who are looking for information on how to get involved in the electoral process and the importance of staying in the mix.

I recently wrapped up our fourth edition of the guide dubbed “TruckVote.” A few weeks ago when I embarked on putting all the pieces of the guide together to present to Land Line readers I thought it would be a good idea to include some notable examples in the past year that show how the involvement of truckers made a difference on issues.

It didn’t take long to track down success stories at the federal, state and local levels of government. In Washington, DC, we’ve seen truckers make their voice heard on issues that include the pilot program to allow Mexican trucks to cross the border and tolling interstates in Pennsylvania.

Truckers also helped make an impact on numerous state issues. One recent example is out of Wisconsin where truckers contacted their state lawmakers about an effort to modify the state’s Diesel Idle Reduction Grant Program. The primary benefactors would have been large motor carriers.

At the local level, residents in two Texas communities made their presence known. Truckers came out in opposition to a proposed ordinance in Houston that would limit truck sizes and weights and charge permit fees. The elected official behind the proposal agreed to delay a vote and to consider input from the trucking industry.

And truckers and others in Dallas got behind a grassroots effort against a proposed toll road. A petition drive netted enough signatures for a question on the toll road to be added to the November ballot.

So, as you can see there has been some hearty involvement in the governmental process from folks in the trucking community during the past year.

The rewards for those who take the time to make their voice heard are more evident each year. I’m encouraged, not to mention confident, that we will see many more examples of truckers standing up for their rights and educating their elected officials about the industry and what impact their actions have on it.

While you have yet to receive your October issue of Land Line Magazine with our “TruckVote” section tucked inside, I am already looking forward to the 2008 edition and what other success stories I will be able to recap.

Until then, keep involved and stay tuned.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Four-wheeler heroes

I was heading home from work last week on the west side of Nashville, when I saw a thick ugly dark column of smoke billowing from just north of I-40 and the Briley Parkway interchange. I knew there were some fuel storage tanks up that way and wondered if one was burning.

The reality was much more grim. The fire came from an overturned tanker truck that had flipped, exploded and burned, killing the 29-year-old driver, Daniel Moss. The story was on the news when I got home, and a bit later, the newscasters were updating to report on the heroic effort of a passing motorist who tried to save the driver.

As reported by WTVF-TV, Lee Goodrum was heading home from work and saw the accident in his rearview mirror. He could have kept going – he was safely past the unfolding tragedy – but instead he stopped and went to try to help. The intense heat and roaring flames drove him back.

We like to complain about inconsiderate motorists, and morons do abound. But I think we don’t give enough credit to the countless courtesies four-wheelers do extend: After all, if they didn’t give a little ground, how would you ever change lanes, enter or exit a roadway?

And when something like this happens, it restores a lot of faith not just in four-wheelers, but in people in general. Be thankful for people like Mr. Goodrum – and watch your own behavior to help encourage more good Samaritans when a trucker needs aid.