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LOIS HENRY: Air board backs off heavy equipment rule

The Bakersfield Californian | Thursday, Oct 07 2010 04:41 PM

Last Updated Thursday, Oct 07 2010 04:41 PM

The good news is the California Air Resources Board announced Thursday it has agreed to back off of implementation of a rule restricting construction equipment emissions until 2014.

The bad news is how it got this far in the first place.

CARB adopted the rule in 2007. It was supposed to go into effect this year requiring retrofit, repowering or replacement of most heavy equipment in the state in a staggered manner depending on whether it was a small, medium or large fleet. The Legislature, recognizing how the recession had decimated California's construction industry, delayed implementation of some of parts of the rule.

Still, it was looming.

Last September, the Associated General Contractors of America paid independent researchers to dig into CARB's estimates of how much pollution the construction industry was actually spewing into the air.

They found CARB's numbers were off -- way off.

The industry would be below CARB's target levels for nitrogen oxide (NOx) for the next 11 years and below the particulate matter (PM2.5, or tiny particles of dust and soot) targets until 2014, without having to do a single thing.

And by 2014, manufacturers are expected to come out with engines that burn "as clean as natural gas" on all new equipment, driving down emissions even further as older equipment is retired.

Typical CARB, they ignored the report until the association filed an emergency petition and then got "right on it" and came out with its own report -- finally -- last month.

Sure enough, CARB's new report showed its original estimates off by 300 to 500 percent, according to Brant Ambrose, manager of Downs Equipment Rental in Bakersfield.

Some of the reason was the staggering downturn in the economy, but some of the reason was just, well, "they didn't give a reason," Ambrose said. "They were just wrong."

During a conference call Thursday, one reporter asked CARB chairwoman Mary Nichols how CARB could have gotten its estimates so far off.

"We're not in the business of attacking each other's studies," she said adding that CARB was trying to improve its data and "the important thing is we're moving forward."

The new agreement will back the rule up a few years, give contractors easier annual targets to meet, exclude more equipment than was excluded originally, give credits to those companies that had already begun modifying equipment and offer companies more incentives to modify or replace machinery.

All good.

But I have to say I'm with Ambrose when he said:

"If it was the oil or tobacco industry coming out with this kind of flawed research, someone would be in prison.

"But CARB seems to get a pass every time."

Funny how that works.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail lhenry@bakersfield.com