TO IMPROVE THEIR STATE'S often poor air quality, California regulators have voted to stop diesel trucks and buses from idling for more than five minutes. The rule applies to vehicles with gross vehicle weights of more than 10,000 pounds. Officials estimate that the regulation will apply to roughly 400,000 privately and publicly owned vehicles that are registered in California, and similar out-of-state vehicles doing business in the state. However, solid waste professionals with operations in California don't appear to be worried about the rule. The regulation contains accommodations that will minimize the impact on their activities, industry experts say.

“It really doesn't affect what I would call ‘working idling,’” says Kent Stoddard, vice president of public affairs for Houston-based Waste Management Inc.'s Western Group. “I think the only impact that it will have on us is if we've got a driver that wants to take a 45-minute lunch break and keep his truck going. [With the new rule], you can't do that, but our company policy doesn't allow that anyway.”

The ban, passed in late July by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) by an 8-0 vote, will become effective in roughly six months, after the state's Office of Administrative Law has reviewed it and “tied up any legal loose ends,” says Gennet Paauwe, spokeswoman for the board. Each violation carries a $100 fine. Approximately 20 other states have idling restrictions, according to news reports.

Fortunately for the solid waste industry, the ban permits vehicles to idle for more than five minutes when such idling is necessary to perform their work. For example, operators are allowed to exceed the five-minute limit when they need to power auxiliary equipment, such as hydraulic lifting devices. The regulation also allows vehicles to exceed the limit when queuing (in line) to enter a landfill or weighing station. Other exemptions to the limit include when the vehicle is stuck in traffic, when the driver is in poor weather conditions such as dense fog, and when the operator needs to use defrosters, air conditioners, heaters or other equipment to prevent an emergency.

Paauwe says CARB likely will re-examine the queuing exemption, along with one that allows trucks with sleeper berths to exceed the limit during federally mandated rest periods, in September 2005.

Robert Reed, spokesman for San Francisco-based Norcal Waste Systems, says the accommodation for powering auxiliary equipment is particularly important to his company and other waste management firms that service apartment buildings in urban areas. Two of Norcal's subsidiaries — Golden Gate Disposal & Recycling Co. and Sunset Scavenger Co. — collect garbage and recyclables in San Francisco, where about 65 percent of the residents live in apartments. Rounding up trash and recycling containers from big apartment buildings and emptying them into collection trucks using hydraulic lifts can require the collection vehicles to idle for more than five minutes, Reed says.

Arlington Rodgers, solid waste manager for the city of San Bernardino, which collects residential and commercial garbage, echoes Stoddard's and Reed's sentiments, saying that the idling limit will have little impact on refuse operations. And Rodgers says his drivers have long been advised to limit idling during breaks, so he is not worried about his employees racking up violations either.

According to CARB, diesel-engine idling contributes about 20,030 tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxides (NOx) and 438 tons of diesel particulate matter (PM) per year to the state's air. That means that roughly 8 percent of the state's annual NOx emissions and 9 percent of the PM emissions come from the practice. CARB estimates that the idling restriction will eliminate about 5,200 tons of the NOx emissions and 166 tons of the PM emissions annually, and will reduce the exposure of residents to toxic air contaminants.

Additionally, the board estimates the ban will save each truck up to 125 gallons of diesel fuel per year. — SU