(Jennifer Kundrach/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

More than 20 years ago, Pennsylvania agreed to follow the same air pollution standards as the California Air Resources Board for heavy-duty diesel engines.

Over the years, that has led to the Keystone State accepting California’s initial limits for heavy-duty engines in 2005 and the 2008 ban on lengthy engine idling without a lot of pushback.

Now, that is changing.

With Pennsylvania accepting California’s adoption of increasingly more stringent emission standards over the next 10 years, truckers and dealers who sell trucks are fighting back. They say the state shouldn’t be able to adopt changes that could cost trucking firms thousands of dollars per vehicle without local input and that the changes encourage firms to buy their vehicles from neighboring states that don’t follow California’s standards.

A nonprofit law firm filed suit earlier this month against the state challenging the legality of the Environmental Quality Board accepting California’s pollution rules. The 21-page lawsuit by the Virginia-based Pacific Legal Foundation claims it is illegal for the state to abdicate its responsibility to govern by accepting another state’s rules or laws without the normal public process.

“We finally have a situation where my clients are saying, ‘Enough is enough,’” foundation attorney Caleb J. Kruckenberg said in an interview. “There have been other things in California law brought to Pennsylvania but not the significance of the changes here.”

The foundation is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal representation to protect small businesses from what it calls “government overreach.”

The foundation filed the lawsuit on behalf of the 1,200-member Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association as well as individual firms that operate trucking companies or sell the big rigs. The suit is awaiting a hearing date in Commonwealth Court because the state is a defendant, and Kruckenberg said the group also will ask for an injunction to block implementation.

The state Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the Environmental Quality Board, declined comment.

Although California’s new standards begin in 2024, Pennsylvania is postponing implementation until 2027. However, Kruckenberg said an organization or individual could ask a court to order Pennsylvania to begin enforcing the changes immediately because the state has committed to following California standards.

The revised standards mean that in California all new trucks sold must be designed to release less nitrogen oxide beginning in 2024 with additional reductions for new vehicles in 2027 and 2031.

The lawsuit claims these changes would impose expensive upgrades to trucks bought in Pennsylvania even though the state has done no analysis to determine whether they are needed here or how much they would cost. The suit said the Environmental Quality Board is supposed to make recommendations to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, where the secretary of transportation makes the final decision, but the state didn’t follow that procedure.

“This is a situation these firms don’t want to be in,” Kruckenberg said. “This is going to involve a lot of money potentially. What we are seeing already is competitors in Ohio and West Virginia trying to sell their trucks to Pennsylvania companies because they don’t have to meet the new standards.”

A background paper distributed by the foundation highlights the situation facing family-owned Peters Brothers Inc., a Berks County trucking company that is one of the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The company, founded in 1950, has 85 employees who operate 72 trucks and 120 freezer trailers in Lenhartsville. The company replaces an average of 13 trucks a year and is considering buying them in Wisconsin, where it also has a hub, rather than paying the extra costs in Pennsylvania.

“Letting California call the shots forces regulations on Pennsylvania citizens and businesses without their input, economic analysis, consideration of alternatives or debate over whether the new standards are even needed in Pennsylvania,” the foundation said.

In the suit, truck dealers Transteck Inc. of Harrisburg, H.R. Ewell of Lancaster County and Kenworth of PA with various locations, including New Stanton, claim they will lose business if they have to sell trucks that meet California air standards.

Kruckenberg said, “The dealers are watching their customers go across the border.”

Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at eblazina@unionprogress.com.

Ed Blazina

Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at eblazina@unionprogress.com.