How Clean Air Regulations Impact Vehicles With Air Compressors

Federal and state air regulations play an important role in keeping communities safe and healthy and have driven significant innovation in the clean energy sector. But what does this mean for the mobile air compressor industry, which often requires an idling engine to power the air compressor?

In this article, we’ll break down the major players in air regulations, including California state and U.S. federal governments, and talk about how they impact you and your business.

The Federal Clean Air Act

The Federal Clean Air Act was first enacted in 1970 and later revised in 1990. This Act sets out guidelines and requirements for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and individual states to protect people’s health and the environment.

The objectives of the Clean Air Act include:

  • Improve air quality
  • Improve visibility
  • Protect the ozone layer
  • Reduce common & toxic pollutants
  • Reduce acid raid

The EPA works with individual states to enact different aspects of the Clean Air Act. Some objectives give states more autonomy than others.

Improve air quality & visibilityStates are responsible for implementing enforceable plans to reduce pollutants in protected areas; the EPA provides guidance
Protect the ozone layerEPA issues & enforces rules for the use and disposal of chemicals known to deplete the ozone
Reduce common pollutantsEPA develops standards, states are responsible for creating enforceable plans to meet the standards
Reduce toxic pollutantsEPA controls national limits for major sources, while states can elect to take on partial or complete enforcement of the limits
Reduce acid rainEPA implements, tracks & monitors compliance with the federal Acid Rain Program

California Air Regulations Set A Higher Bar

California has struggled with air quality for decades and, in 2002, became the first state to set clean air standards that go above and beyond the Clean Air Act. Over the next decade, another 13 states followed California’s lead and created state-based legislation that requires higher standards.

This legislation has resulted in more efficient vehicles that produce fewer emissions. California essentially forced the auto-makers to create lower emission cars and, interestingly, the auto industry complied with little fuss.

However, a change in political perspective disputes California and other states’ autonomy over cleaner air. On August 2, 2018, the acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler announced that California will no longer be allowed to set their own rules; instead, the state will only need to follow the federal requirements. California is expected to challenge this decision in court.

United States Anti-Idling Laws

The federal government has not issued anti-idling laws. Instead, the majority of states have implemented their own anti-idling regulations. Because California set the initial bar for environmental regulations, many states have followed their example in anti-idling:

California Anti-Idling Rules

  • No idling longer than 5 minutes
  • Minimum $300 fines
  • Exceptions include:
    • Service or repair vehicles
    • Work trucks using power takeoff (PTO)
    • Certified Clean Idle vehicles
    • Emergency or health & safety vehicles

Individual cities within a state can set additional regulations on idling, including specific rules and fine amounts. To see the regulations in your county or state, check out the American Transportation Research Institute’s Compendium of Idling Regulations.

Fortunately, most states let vehicles idle if they are performing work-related tasks. Operators who use air tools are typically allowed to use air compressors that utilize the vehicle’s engine, such as an UNDERHOOD™ air compressor, or PTO-drive systems like a Direct-Transmission Mounted air compressor.

Air Compressor Manufacturing Regulations

Reputable air compressor manufacturers have regulations and procedures that should be followed in the creation, assembly and installation of their air compressors. However, most of these regulations are focused on safety and engineering, and don’t pertain to air quality.

However, there is one notable exception: The EPA’s “Clean Air Nonroad Diesel Rule” requires manufacturers to meet exhaust emission standards for all small diesel engines, including those used in air compressors. This regulation has been in full effect for all nonroad diesel engines since 2015.

Similarly, truck manufacturers are also required to follow strict regulations and guidelines when developing their product lines. For example, California’s Air Resources Board recently passed regulation to increase the greenhouse gas emissions standards for medium- and heavy-duty engines and vehicles within that state. These changes need to be taken into account when designing engine-driven air compressors, like the UNDERHOOD™ air compressor.

While it’s unreasonable to expect consumers and operators to be aware of the regulations developed for manufacturers, operators can help protect themselves by purchasing their products from a reputable air compressor manufacturer that is committed to implementing a high degree of standard and quality control.

How Do Clean Air Regulations Impact Air Compressor Operators?

Fortunately, clean air regulations don’t tend to impact workers who are operating vehicle mounted air compressors. Reputable air compressor manufacturers ensure their products stay up to date with federal emissions regulations, while even the strictest states, like California, have anti-idling exceptions that allow operators to run their vehicles for the sake of their work. At the end of the day, most jurisdictions give a free pass to pneumatic tool operators including tire techs, construction workers, and other roadside operators.