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California air board reconsiders diesel rules


10:00 PM PDT on Thursday, April 22, 2010

By JIM MILLER and DAVID DANELSKI
The Press-Enterprise

SACRAMENTO - State air-quality regulators explored possible delays to tough diesel pollution rules Thursday as a way to bring relief to the recession-battered construction and trucking industries.

The regulations, adopted by the California Air Resources Board in 2007 and 2008, are designed to reduce the amount of diesel soot, a known carcinogen. Thursday's discussion came as board staff said it had overestimated the amount of diesel emissions from backhoes tractors, trucks and other vehicles.

The air board will consider staff proposals to ease the regulations in September.

"It's clear that there's a need for a new look at these two rules," air board Chairwoman Mary Nichols said.

The diesel regulations would reduce major sources of pollution in the Inland area.

Henry Hog of the South Coast Air Quality Management District said the rules are vital to helping the region meet a federal clean-air deadline in 2014.

But trucking companies and construction industry representatives said the rules already have forced some companies out of business. Others have had to spend millions to retrofit or replace equipment.

Bill Smeber, president of CPS Express, a Mira Loma trucking company, said in an interview that the rules will require him to stop using 10 trucks by 2014 even though he had them retrofitted with pollution controls just last year.

"I am saying we need some more time to run those trucks," said Smeber, a board member of the California Trucking Association.

Some critics of the rules seized on the new emissions numbers Thursday as proof that the diesel regulations were unnecessary.

"I think it's a failure of the organization to not be that close," said board member John G. Telles, a Fresno cardiologist, who supports the regulations.

But other board members said that projecting emissions is very difficult and relies on complex modeling.

Thursday's hearing centered on two sets of regulations.

In July 2007, board members adopted diesel regulations for graders and other off-road vehicles. The rules require owners to retrofit or replace their vehicles to meet progressively tougher standards.

In December 2008, the air board approved diesel standards for trucks and buses. Those are scheduled to begin taking effect in 2011, when the oldest trucks will need to have soot-trapping devices.

A few years later, many trucks would have to be retrofitted with controls that also reduce nitrogen oxide emissions.

Representatives of environmental groups said there should be no years-long delays in carrying out the regulations. Companies that have already made improvements should get credits, they said.

Reach Jim Miller at 916-445-9973 or jmiller@PE.com