How California’s trucking regulations are impacting a Pennsylvania small business owner

July 25, 2023 | By BRITTANY HUNTER

Brian Wanner never dreamed of owning a business as a child. He wanted to be a farmer, like his father. He has a deep connection to the land and still maintains his passion for farming to this day. But after the Pennsylvania farm his family rented was sold when he was 18, Brian found another passion—driving trucks to deliver other farmers’ food to grocery stores.

That’s what Peters Brothers, Inc—the trucking company started by Brian’s grandfather and now helmed by Brian himself—does. Its fleet of 72 trucks delivers refrigerated and frozen foods all over the country and is headquartered, as it has been since its founding in 1950, in Pennsylvania.

Brian might be the founder’s grandson, but he earned his way to his leadership position. Starting as a dispatcher in 1993, he had to work his way up the ladder to general manager before taking over as the majority owner in January 2023.

“I’ve been running this show here probably the last 20 years,” Brian says. When his uncle retired this year, he bought him out. “So, I’m enjoying the role and it’s been an accomplishment, although it’s very challenging right now in business. This year has been a challenge, to say the least.”

It isn’t common knowledge outside of certain circles, but trucking is a heavily regulated industry. At both the federal and the state levels, from labor to equipment, virtually every part of trucking is influenced by government in some way. It isn’t easy, but Brian and his team find ways to make it work.

Or, at least, they did. A new regulation is threatening to strangle the family business. And the worst part is, the regulation isn’t even coming from either the state government of Pennsylvania or the federal government. It’s coming from the other side of the country.

California laws and Pennsylvania trucks

Brian’s biggest problem began—although nobody knew it at the time—in 2002 when the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board adopted a regulation that required the State of Pennsylvania to comply with the emissions standards for heavy diesel engines set by the State of California. Worse still, that compliance requirement has no expiration date. And it updates automatically whenever California changes its standards.

The trucking industry today is cleaner and more efficient than it ever has been. And Brian cares about his impact on the environment.

“I’m a farmer at heart, so I love the environment,” he says. “Clean water, clean air, and we try. Hey, we try with our tires, we try with aerodynamics, we try with everything we can to make sure we’re maximizing our fuel mileage, because if you’re burning less fuel, you’re making less pollutants. So, we have super singles, we have all the aerodynamics, we care about the environment, but that’s what we want to make sure, that it’s happening reasonably.”

Unfortunately for Brian and his fellow Pennsylvanians, the California Air Resources Board keeps tightening the restrictions and requirements for trucking without apparent consideration for how it affects the people actually doing the work.

California was the first in the country to adopt emissions requirements within its borders, pre-dating even the federal government’s Clean Air Act, and has long had a well-deserved reputation for being especially stringent regarding vehicle emissions. And California’s newest requirements for heavy diesel engines mandate, in addition to even more draconian emissions standards, that buyers of newly manufactured heavy diesel engines must also purchase robust extended warranties to go with them.

“I think it came to light, the severity of it, last year,” Brian says. “I had talked to my state representative when they talked about forcing us to buy warranty. We have our own maintenance shop; typically I do not buy warranty.”

California’s regulations already have made doing business in the state more costly.

“The cost of the trucks have escalated tremendously. I mean, some is inflation, but the regulations on these engines have made the trucks costly.”

Some trucking companies have decided to stop servicing businesses in California altogether after doing the math and finding that the lost income is less than the price of compliance.

And if this were solely a California issue, that would be one thing. After all, California will do what California does. The problem Brian faces is that he has absolutely no say in what the California government decides.

He lives in Pennsylvania. His business is headquartered in Pennsylvania. His employees, for the most part, are Pennsylvanians. All things being equal, he would rather buy his trucks from other Pennsylvania businesses. As a voter and a local township official, he has some measure of say in how he, a Pennsylvanian, is governed and regulated.

But thanks to a 20-year-old rule, elected officials who are in no way beholden to Brian or the other people of Pennsylvania get to decide how a critical industry is regulated. Not only is this intuitively unfair, it’s also unconstitutional.

Only the Pennsylvania General Assembly is empowered to make law in Pennsylvania, because only the General Assembly speaks for the people it represents and to whom it is accountable. What’s more, when regulatory changes are forced in the manner the current statute requires, it cuts out any possibility of the public input that is required by Pennsylvania law. Pennsylvania requires that there be publication of proposed rules in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, inviting Pennsylvanians to comment and raise issues with proposed regulatory changes. And California isn’t inviting Pennsylvanians to comment on its emissions standards changes.

There isn’t any way the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board could have known in 2002, when it passed its regulation, the sorts of restrictions and requirements California would implement decades down the line. But that only means that an open-ended adoption of another state’s emissions standards—whatever they might be at that moment or in the future—was never the right thing to do.

Brian is no stranger to fighting unjust laws.

“I love this country, I love my family, I love my God. I’ll stand up when somebody has to stand up. I won’t let nobody be bullied. We have issues with our state tolling—tolling the bridges indiscriminately. We fought that. That’s how I got involved more with [the Pennsylvania Motor Trucking Association] because I was such an advocate. I’m a local official with the township, I’m township supervisor. So I mean, the consequences when the government does stuff and doesn’ think it through, we have to stand up or we’re just going to lose everything.”

But last year, when a bill that would have repealed the regulation requiring compliance with California statutes stalled and died in the Pennsylvania State Senate after sailing through the House of Representatives, Brian felt like he had few options. Business had already been tight, and the time is fast approaching for the deadline on purchasing decisions for next year.

He could either eat the cost of the extended warranty that he doesn’t want or need, or he could reluctantly buy his trucks in Wisconsin, where Peters Brothers has a terminal.

Fortunately, Brian found Pacific Legal Foundation, who is representing him and Peters Brothers in their suit against Pennsylvania’s unlawful regulatory outsourcing.

“We shouldn’t have to sue our government to get common sense stuff done,” Brian told PLF. “But that’s where we’re at now.”

And Pennsylvania is not the only state to be heavily impacted by the California regulatory regime. Minnesota and Virginia also have similar provisions in effect.

Brian’s case remains active, and it might not be resolved in time to change his purchasing decisions for the coming year. But restoring the rule of law and truly representational government to the people of Pennsylvania is worth the fight.