A plan to raise taxes and fees to pay for California road repairs includes a concession to the trucking industry that would block the state from requiring truck owners to upgrade to lower-emission models.
The provision angered environmentalists, who implored lawmakers to reject it Monday saying it would perpetuate health problems in neighborhoods around ports and other areas exposed to a high volume of truck traffic.
Commercial truck emissions are one of the largest sources of pollution in areas with the dirtiest air, but the giveaway to truckers would undermine future mandates to deal with them, said Adrian Martinez, an attorney for Earthjustice.
"Our communities cannot breathe, and we thought that our right to breathe would be worth more than a few billion dollars in transportation improvements," Katie Valenzuela Garcia told the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Valenzuela Garcia is the co-chair of a committee that advises the California Air Resources Board on environmental issues.
Following a rare direct appeal from Gov. Jerry Brown, Democrats on the committee voted along party lines to send the measure to the full Senate, which is expected to take it up on Thursday. However, the fierce opposition from environmentalists complicates the path to a two-thirds supermajority required for tax increases.
The trucking provision is part of a transportation plan announced last week by Brown and Democratic legislative leaders. It would hike gas taxes and vehicle fees to raise more than $5 billion a year for repairs to crumbling roads and bridges.
Supporters are airing a barrage of television ads to pressure lawmakers on the fence.
To win support from truckers, who would face significantly higher fuel costs, Brown and top lawmakers agreed to prohibit the state from requiring them to retire or retrofit trucks before they're 13 years old or reach 800,000 miles. Some truck owners would be able to keep trucks for up to 18 years.
The provision will ensure truck owners have time to recoup their investment in more efficient technology without worrying that they'll face a new, stricter mandate a few years later, California Trucking Association officials said in a letter to lawmakers.
Environmental and health advocates worry the trucking provision is overly broad and will prevent pollution regulators from developing rules that indirectly affect truckers by capping emissions at warehouses and ports.
The transportation funding plan, SB1, would raise diesel taxes by 20 cents per gallon, a 125 percent increase. Sales taxes on diesel fuel would rise from 9 percent to 13 percent. The two diesel tax hikes would generate about 20 percent of the $52.4 billion that the package is anticipated to raise over 10 years.
Sen. Jim Beall, a San Jose Democrat who has worked for years on the plan, said the restriction on pollution mandates is necessary to have a "fair balance" for truckers who will be heavily taxed.
Brown has portrayed himself as an environmental champion and promotes California's strict pollution regulations around the world, although environmentalists at home have criticized him for supporting expanded oil drilling and refusing to ban hydraulic fracturing. He cast the trucking provision as part of the give and take of politics.
"We are trying to be reasonable," he said.
The legislation would not affect existing state regulations requiring more efficient engines in trucks, which phases in through 2023, said Stanley Young, a spokesman for the Air Resources Board. The bill would strengthen that regulation because it would prohibit truck owners from re-registering their vehicles without complying, Young said.
Aside from the higher diesel taxes, the transportation bill would raise taxes on gasoline by 12 cents per gallon and charge a new annual vehicle fee ranging from $25 to $175 depending on the vehicle's value.