diesel rule gets renewed scrutiny
Howard | 12/17/09
12:00 AM PST
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger traveled to Copenhagen to tout his record
battling global warming, at home a very different story developed. He
told his top air-quality regulators to change – and, critics fear,
potentially weaken -- a premier regulation curbing diesel soot.
paradox was not apparent in Denmark: The governor, his popularity at
a record low in California, didn’t mention the setback involving a
nationally watched regulation governing a million trucks and school
at home, the action marked a significant political and policy event.
Gov. Schwarzenegger demanded that the diesel regulation be retooled
by the Air Resources Board to “help small and mid-size companies
meet these important air quality regulations.” The governor
appoints all the members of the 11-person board, including the
is clear,” the governor said, that “clear responsible action is
ARB, accustomed to public pressure, frequently tweaks regulations,
but rarely does so at the direct, public orders of the governor. But
this regulation already was clouded by controversy. It was not
formally delayed or rescinded as two commissioners wanted, but the
fact that new provisions will be added under pressure from the
governor reflects the political intensity surrounding the issue.
also shows the susceptibility of the governor, not for the first
time, to bow to pressure.
governor, in a carefully worded public statement, said that despite
the new provisions he seeks, the “final 2014 implementation date”
will not be affected. He did not mention the initial January 2011
ARB says the timetable of the regulation remains unchanged, although
environmentalists who track the board’s activities said a startup
delay is likely. “There’s no question,” said Bill Magavern,
director of Sierra Club California. “And there is a danger that by
accommodating the truckers, the ARB will lose some of the early
benefits of cleaning up the fleet.”
board itself says the regulation is going forward as planned, and is
being altered to reflect the impact of the recession on the diesel
vehicle industry – an impact that the industry itself repeatedly
raised before the ARB voted on the rule.
potential delay reflects a political victory of sorts for the diesel
industry, which includes numerous small and mid-size companies that
opposed the proposed regulation from the beginning. It also reflects
an embarrassment for some newspapers that editorialized in favor of
the original regulation a year ago, despite opposition from the
industry, and now are editorializing in favor of the new provisions.
definitely disappointed at this delay. What this means is that a
child living in the Central Valley will have to wait longer to
breathe clean air,” said Matt Vander Sluis, who handles global
warming issues for the Planning and Conservation League.
ARB acted after public criticism erupted over a key staffer’s
falsification of his academic credentials. The ARB staffer, Hien
Tran, did not really have a Ph.D. from UC Davis as he claimed. That
admission cast a cloud over the report he headed that served as a
critical underpinning of the new regulation.
scientific validity of Tran’s study was not the issue – at least
not initially. But as criticism grew from some in the scientific
community, the health report was scuttled and a new one ordered in
its place. On the board, the lead critic of the report was Dr.
John Telles, a Fresno cardiologist, who was angered that many on the
board did not learn of the credential falsification before they voted
on the regulation -- even though top ARB staffers and Chairwoman Mary
Nichols were aware of the problem.
take the employee misconduct very seriously but it should not affect
an extremely important public health measure that has been
extensively reviewed throughout the scientific community. We have
tightened up our procedures to ensure anincident like this never
happens again,” Nichols said.
new regulation will prevent thousands of premature deaths every year
in the state and save billions of dollars in health care costs, the
administration says. The ARB estimated the financial impact of the
regulation at $4.5 billion to $5.5 billion, which includes the cost
of fitting vehicles with anti-pollution devices.
to an ARB analysis, the new standards are projected to prevent 4,000
premature deaths, 110,000 asthma-related cases, 9,200 cases of acute
bronchitis and 680,000 lost work days over 20 years. The requirements
also would save up to $26 billion in health care cost by 2030,
according to air board projections. The rule requires truck owners to
install diesel exhaust filters on their rigs by Jan. 1, 2011, with
nearly all vehicles upgraded by 2014.
new regulations do not apply to snow-removal equipment and other such
vehicles that run less than 100 hours per year. Emergency vehicles,
agricultural equipment and vehicles that run on less than 25
horsepower also would be exempt.
is going to be a series of workshops and an update to the board in
April with some new provisions and a new health report,” said ARB
spokeswoman Mary Salas Fricke.
ARB, heeding the governor, ordered its staff “to return to
the Board next April with a new provision that would provide truck
fleets more flexibility in cleaning up their diesel emissions under
the state’s Truck and Bus Rule that was adopted in December of last
year, in light of the recession’s effect on the industry.”
ARB said “the down economy has reduced the amount of time trucks
have operated, thus reducing harmful diesel emissions that would have
occurred during normal economic times.”
in the Capitol in both parties believe Schwarzenegger is not deeply
engaged on key issues. But that clearly is not true on global warming
policies, which he sees as his administration’s legacy. He has not
hesitated to wield clout over the ARB, up to and including the firing
of the chairman.
(board members) are all appointed and at any point he could take off
one of those members and replace him with any other member. The
board has prized its independence, but they are going to listen to
what the governor wants,” Magavern said.