Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Recipe for disaster

First Diana and Dennis Rodrigues tried adding a particulate filter to their 1997 reefer engine.

But it wasn’t CARB approved.

Then the Florida trucking family tried to purchase a $24,000 reefer engine to add to the existing trailer.

No bank would finance the repower.

Finally, the couple purchased a new $58,000 reefer trailer in late May, having been assured by CARB, California EPA and others that inspections at the state border would require all reefers to meet the new Transportation Refrigeration Unit standard by July 18.

“We knew we had to do something or we weren’t going to California,” Diana said.

Then on July 1, two weeks before the state was scheduled to begin enforcement, CARB announced it was delaying enforcement of the reefer reg until Dec. 31. CARB’s quick change contradicted several agency statements – including one in May – that it would not delay enforcement.

Even worse, the decision rendered expensive purchases made by truckers like the Rodrigues family imprudent or at least misinformed.

“I understand people want to make the world a better place through CARB,” Diana Rodrigues said. “We’re just a single little carrier and I was told ‘you do it or you will not come into the state anymore.’ ”

The couple was poised to pay off their 2006 Volvo VNL 670 in October, eliminating a $2,200 monthly budget drain and enabling Dennis to run locally. Because Dennis liked his regular runs hauling frozen juice into California and produce out of it in his reefer, the family decided to purchase the reefer so they could at least pay off the truck.

Had they known CARB would push the deadline back, they would not have purchased the reefer.

As it is, after refinancing they owe $2,200 a month on the truck and the reefer, which was purchased with a five-year loan.

For more than a year, the California Air Resources Board has been sounding the drum on its reefer rule. By July 18, 2009, CARB said then, it will enforce the restriction that requires upgrades to reefers eight years and older.

For instance, in 2011, 2003 model year reefers and older must meet the new standards.

Joe Rajkovacz, regulatory affairs specialist at OOIDA, told me that California’s agricultural industry is very powerful in California, and pushed for the delay.

National produce shipping drops dramatically in the fall, Rajkovacz told me.

“This is pure power politics on the part of the California agricultural industry,” Rajkovacz said. “The rule was delayed because they knew that implementing this rule at the height of the produce shipping season would have left them with a huge shortage of available equipment in the marketplace, affecting rates and leaving a lot of produce to rot.”

To make matters worse for the Rodrigues family, a microburst storm pushed their tractor and trailer over in late June, crushing the family’s pickup and parking their truck for at least three weeks.

“We’re picking up the trailer this afternoon,” Diana told me Wednesday morning. “After refinancing, we’re already going to be a whole truck payment behind.”

Diana says she can’t blame CARB for an act of God or nature bowling over her truck and crushing her personal vehicle.

She can blame them for causing the family to extend itself further into debt during uncertain economic times.

“For some people a $2,200 payment is a nothing payment,” she said. “But if you’re struggling – you’re a husband and wife with two kids – $2,200 is huge.”