Truckers from the Port of Oakland led a convoy to Sacramento to protest a new law that forces 40,000 of the state's oldest and dirtiest trucks to reduce diesel emissions next month. Another one million must comply by 2011.
"What are we doing? Shooting ourselves in the foot here?" said one speaker in Sacramento.
Citing the weak economy with many trucks sitting idle during this recession, the trucking industry asked the California Air Resources Board to delay the law because the cost to replace or retrofit a fleet is bank-breaking. State research shows emissions are already 20 percent lower.
"It makes no sense to saddle the trucking industry with a regulation that absolutely assures the collapse of thousands of taxpaying businesses," says Richard Lee with Tim A. Manley Trucking.
The industry also questions whether the board's science, that shows 9,400 premature deaths could be prevented with these tougher rules, is valid since one of the researchers lied about his credentials. The public health community says that may be troubling, but should not underplay the impact pollution has on Californians.
"Lung cancer is the main cancer to have been linked to these diesel exhaust," says Peggy Reynolds from the American Cancer Society.
The trucking industry's plea wasn't enough to detour the first phase.
"What we are not going to do is back away or back down from the need to make progress on reducing the single most serious cause of health-harming air pollutants in this state," says Chairwoman Mary Nichols from the California Air Resources Board.
The board, though, will re-do the science over the next few weeks and may consider giving the trucking industry more flexibility with the bad economy in mind, before the second wave of big-rigs must comply.
A delay could also cost the state some big bucks. If the state fails to reach air quality standards mandated by the EPA by 2014, it could lose billions of dollars in federal highway funding.