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Towing and Going Green

Local tow truck company goes “green”
New environmental rules to be implemented starting next year
By Brenda Gazzar, Staff Writer
Posted: 05/16/2010 07:36:17 PM PDT


20100516_102407_SX17-TOWTRUCKS4Jan’s Towing heavy duty towing specialist Steve Coffee, from left, president Jan Qualkenbush and driver supervisor D. J. Johnston with a Kenworth 40 ton heavy recovery tow truck that has been retrofitted with a particulate filtering system making it an “eco friendly” diesel at his Azusa towing company May 12, 2010. About 75 per cent of Jan’s Towing trucks are environmentally safe diesel engines that are already complying with future air quality requirements. (SGVN/Staff photo by Leo Jarzomb)Like other service shops around the nation, Jan Qualkenbush’s towing business suffered a blow during the recession, bringing his profits down at least 15 percent and causing him to reduce his fleet of tow trucks from nearly 50 to 35.

But despite the financial hardships, Qualkenbush has gotten a jump start on making his diesel tow trucks compliant with costly state and federal environmental regulations that go into effect starting next year.

The president of Jan’s Towing Inc., which covers much of the San Gabriel Valley, said the company has spent at least $2.5 million so far in purchasing “green” tow trucks for his Azusa and Glendora shops, and at least 75 percent of the fleet has been converted to more environmentally-friendly vehicles.

“Being in business in general with the recession, trying to stay compliant, and trying to do the right thing is very hard these days,” said Qualkenbush. “I’m not going to sacrifice safety or polluting the environment. I want to do the right thing.”

Although the regulations won’t start until 2011, Qualkenbush has taken a more aggressive approach than others in the industry regarding compliance, said Mark Baatz, owner of the Los Angeles-based Tow Industries, which builds and distributes towing equipment to Qualkenbush and other companies in the region.

“He’s been very proactive in making sure that his trucks conform to the most recent emission codes so that he never has the issue of having to take his trucks off the road because they don’t comply anymore,” Baatz said. “He’s replacing trucks that aren’t going to be made obsolete for another three or four years.” The state’s regulations are intended to ensure that all regions in the state meet federal air quality standards, and to reduce exposure to harmful soot, said Tony Brasil, chief of the heavy duty diesel implementation branch of the California Air Resources Board. “Reducing pollution is going to reduce premature deaths” largely associated with soot emissions, he said. The new regulations are going to have a financial impact on all diesel tow truck and bus companies, but could hit smaller businesses particularly hard because they tend to run older diesel trucks, Baatz said.

Alfonso Castaneda, owner of Acasta Towing in Pasadena, admitted he was concerned about the costs to upgrade his vehicles. However, he said he hopes to start replacing his three diesel tow trucks as soon as he has the budget.

“I’m all for it,” he said. “I think it’s great in the green, positive way … There are companies that are working unprofessionally with their equipment and trucks with things not up to date – that hurts the person doing everything by the book.”

The new regulations – which were announced in 2008 and will only apply to diesel trucks and buses over 14,000 pounds – are still being modified, and deadlines will be extended to give companies more time to comply, Brasil said.

The changes will be implemented in stages. By early 2011, fleets must have exhaust filters installed in at least 25 percent of their vehicles. Companies will have to continue the process until their entire fleets are converted by 2014.

Despite the extra costs, Qualkenbush says he believes the changes he’s making will ultimately pay off.

“You feel like you’ve done something positive for the environment,” he said. “If they want to call me a tree hugger, they can call me a tree hugger. I don’t care.”

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