SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) -- California air-quality regulators are considering a requirement that big-rig trucks install computer systems to pinpoint on-the-road emissions problems, a move that could spur a change in federal rules.
The California Air Resources Board, or ARB, is expected to vote on July 21 on what would be the first such regulations in the United States for heavy-duty trucks, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency is likely to approve a similar rule, the ARB said.
California, the most populous U.S. state, often leads the way on environmental policy, and cars and light trucks in the state already face similar rules for diagnostic systems to alert drivers to air-quality problems.
There are an estimated 1 million to 1.5 million big-rig trucks traveling on California highways, each emitting more than 5 pounds a day of nitrogen oxide, the main ingredient of smog, and particulate matter, or soot, according to the ARB.
The agency estimates the system's cost at $130 per truck. "It should find out immediately what's wrong with the truck and it should pay for itself very quickly," ARB spokesman Jerry Martin said.
A trade group for manufacturers of truck engines is working with the California regulators and the EPA on the diagnostic plan.
The standards would be phased in for big-rig engines beginning in 2010 and fully implemented in the 2013 model year.
The timing is linked to tougher California air pollution rules for trucks that will go into effect from 2007 to 2010, according to the ARB.
The new plan will extend the agency's aggressive oversight of vehicle emissions.
Last September, the ARB adopted the first rules in the U.S. to reduce car emissions linked to global warming, including carbon dioxide and other gases. It aims to cut those emissions by as much as 25 percent beginning with the 2009 model year, rising as high as 34 percent in 2016.
Automakers have challenged those standards in a federal lawsuit.
Under the proposed rule for big trucks, a vehicle weighing more than 7 tons, or 14,000 pounds, would need an on-board diagnostic computer and software to detect breakdowns in virtually every part and system to control emissions.
The computer would monitor fuel, catalysts, exhaust gas recirculation, soot filters, cooling, and other systems and alert the driver to malfunctions as they occur via warning lights on the instrument panel.
California will require diagnostics in 2007 for heavy-duty gasoline and diesel truck engines but that regulation will check fewer emission controls than the new order would. Passenger cars and light- and medium-duty trucks are already required to have on-board monitoring systems.
Joe Suchecki, a spokesman for the Engine Manufacturers Association, said the trade group "has been in constant discussions with the ARB and has made a lot of progress. Costs and technology feasibility are issues in making it a reasonable regulation."
The trade group represents 27 companies like Cummins Inc., International Truck and Engine Corp., General Motors and Ford Motor Co.