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The state of California joined an Inland Empire clean-air lawsuit as a defendant Oct. 13.

The California Trucking Association filed a lawsuit against the South Coast Air Quality Management District in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California Aug. 5, alleging that the district’s new clean-air rule, which regulates warehouses based on their delivery trucks’ emissions, conflicts with federal law.

The rule, adopted May 7, requires warehouse operators to measure and offset their delivery trucks’ nitrogen oxide and diesel particulate matter emissions through nine options, including purchasing near-zero emission trucks or onsite solar panels, installing air filters in schools, houses, daycares, hospitals or community centers, or through a simple fee. The rule applies only if the warehouse is larger than 100,000 square feet.

“About half of the air pollutants that contribute to smog come from the goods movement industry, with the largest source being heavy-duty trucks heading to warehouses across Southern California,” said Wayne Nastri, South Coast AQMD’s executive officer, in a statement announcing the rule.

The rule helps meet federal clean air standards and reduce negative health impacts, the statement says.

Clean Air Act

The California Trucking Association, in their initial complaint, claims the rule violates Section 209(a) of the Clean Air Act, which states “No state or any political subdivision thereof shall adopt or attempt to enforce any standard relating to the control of emissions from new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines subject to this part.”

That prohibition can be waived, however, by the federal government. California currently has a waiver, which Attorney General Rob Bonta claims in his proposed argument extends to the South Coast Air Quality Management District. 

The association also claims that the rule violates the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (49 U.S.C. § 14501), which rules that “a state, political subdivision of a state, or political authority of two or more states may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route or service of any motor carrier… or any motor private carrier, broker or freight forwarder with respect to the transportation of property.”

Fee alternatives

The complaint also claims that the rule’s alternative of paying a fee, instead of offsetting through one of the nine options, is a tax as defined by the California Constitution, which would need to be approved by a two-thirds vote of the electorate. The absence of that voter approval renders the rule unconstitutional, they argue. The complaint also claims that the district does not have the statutory power to enact the rule.

“[The rule] compels operators to change their business in ways that will directly impact the types of services the motor carriers provide to their customers, the route the drivers must take, and the prices that the motor carriers charge the customers for service,” the association’s complaint reads.

The state argued in the motion to intervene that the new rule helped California meet its obligations under the Clean Air Act, and that it is part of the State Implementation Plan, which the Environmental Protection Agency is currently reviewing.

No injury

The state also argued in a proposed answer that the trucking association’s complaint should be barred due to ripeness, because there has been no injury from the rule yet. The proposed answer goes on to say that the plaintiffs haven’t exhausted administrative remedies, and that the case should be tried in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals instead, after the EPA approves the rule.

The California Air Resources Board joined with the California Attorney General in their motion to intervene. Airlines for America also motioned to join, as a plaintiff.

The California Trucking Association is represented by David Robinson, Marne Sussman, Emily Lieban, and Nicholas Dellefave of Holland & Knight LLP, Irvine.

 2:21-cv-6341

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