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Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

Mary Nichols is scared. While citizens all over the state are starting to realize just how bad and overreaching are new CARB regulations, Mary has gone to full defense mode.

It was midnight on November 5, 2009 when Mary hit "ENTER" and posted her missive on the San Diego Union-Tribune's editorial page. Says Mary: "But even with all the progress that has been made, 90 percent of Californians still at some time in their lives breathe unhealthful air." Well Mary, "Some time in their lives" is pretty ambiguous. It certainly sounds scary, but that is how you use meaningless statistics to try to make your point. Read below Mary's defense of the indefensible as she tries to justify regulations, all based on the fraudulent, statistics of Hien Tran.

If you go to the Union-Tribune page, there is a place to post your comments regarding Mary's thoughts.  Finally, and I know this is a cheap shot, I chuckled when I noted the byline "By By Mary Nichols". Maybe that is what she is expecting to hear in the very near future: Bye Bye Mary....

Healthy environment and economy

By By Mary D. Nichols

Thursday, November 5, 2009 at midnight

California has long been regarded as a pioneer in the field of air quality regulation. Our ever-expanding population of 37 million people and 26 million vehicles, combined with our unique geography and climate, has forced us – the Air Resources Board – to become experts at how to reduce air pollution emanating from an amazing variety of sources. As a result, new cars and trucks generate 99 percent fewer smog-forming emissions than they did 40 years ago. Skies are cleaner and people are able to enjoy the outdoors without gasping. But even with all the progress that has been made, 90 percent of Californians still at some time in their lives breathe unhealthful air.

We have now focused our regulatory efforts on reducing noxious emissions from big-rig trucks and off-road sources such as construction equipment. Long regarded as a reliable workhorse of industry, the nearly indestructible diesel engine that powers this type of gear can easily last for decades. But these old engines cost us in other ways.

We Californians pay for our exposure to toxic air pollution with our lives and our wallets. A 2008 report by Cal State Fullerton researchers found that the health impacts of air pollution, especially diesel emissions, costs the state $28 billion annually.

Some critics contend that during uncertain financial times, regulations that may be expensive to implement should be put on hold, significantly weakened, or abandoned altogether. Recently, there have been calls to set aside regulations passed in December 2008 that require diesel big rig fleets to modernize and pollute less, starting in 2011. Also in the cross hairs is the off-road regulation adopted in July 2007.

In response to the poor economy, the ARB has stretched out enforcement deadlines and assembled a total of $2 billion in state grant and loan funds through 2011 to help business owners comply in advance of our diesel deadlines or to buy cleaner equipment than required – the largest pot of financial assistance ever offered to help businesses quickly upgrade their equipment.

Even in a bad economy, people have to breathe. Children riding the bus to school or healthy adults out for a walk should not have to accept increased risk of disease or premature death any longer than absolutely necessary. Over the past 40 years, we have set pollution standards for nearly every other source of toxic emissions in the state, including cars, factories and refineries, and we have heard the same arguments from regulated interests.

On the diesel front, it’s simply a matter of fairness that we clean up diesel trucks, buses and construction equipment. We have already adopted regulations to clean up transit buses, trash trucks, cargo-handling equipment, harbor craft and ship engines, as well as diesel fuel itself. Before the new rules, heavy-duty big rigs and construction equipment were the largest remaining source of unregulated diesel emissions, responsible for 58 percent of the smog-forming emissions and nearly 80 percent of the cancer-causing emissions from mobile diesel sources.

We conservatively estimate these rules will prevent nearly 14,500 premature deaths between 2011 and 2025, and greatly reduce health care costs. These benefits have an estimated value of $66 to $95 billion. There’s also the practical and, yes, economic concern that if we fail to adopt these rules, we fail to meet federal health standards and run the very real risk of losing billions of dollars in federal transportation funds.

We have seen early impressive results in San Diego, where the school district became one of the first in the country to completely retrofit its 500-plus school bus fleet earlier this year ahead of state deadlines. The state contributed more than half of the funding for a fleet cleanup that will help local school children and local communities breathe easier, with an additional influx in federal stimulus funding allowing them to complete the job.

And on the economic front, Cleaire, a San Leandro-based company, employs nearly three dozen people at its Trade Street facility in San Diego that manufactures soot filters that reduce 85 percent of the diesel emissions on older trucks, bulldozers and other equipment. The company estimates that every five to seven filters it produces create an additional new job devoted to manufacturing the materials and installing the devices.

To insist that Californians have to choose between a healthy environment and a healthy economy ignores the reality that we can have both. Our clean air regulations have consistently proved over the years that the upfront costs to comply pay for themselves over the long haul through societal benefits and better energy efficiency. ARB’s tough but fair and reasonable diesel regulations will continue this tradition.

Nichols is chairwoman of the california Air Resources Board.