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Barbara Simpson: How do I say this? California was shafted!

By Barbara Simpson, WorldNetDaily, Posted: October 11, 2010

The newspaper business is on the ropes, but sometimes one rises to shine in what their job is – investigative journalism.

Kudos this week to the San Francisco Chronicle, which published the results of its dig into the heart of the California Air Resources Board, or CARB, and the regulations it issued to supposedly clean up air pollution and comply with federal EPA law.

At issue is the estimate CARB made of pollution levels, which resulted in issuance of rules for diesel emissions.

The rules were adopted in 2007 and affected the emissions from heavy-duty, off-road vehicles using diesel fuel – involving everything from construction projects, port shipping activities, airports and others.

The result was that operators of that equipment either had to retrofit engines or replace them with new models to cut so-called dangerous emissions – nitrous oxide and particulate matter.

Costs ranged from minimal to tens of thousands of dollars. For a small operator, it meant bankruptcy. For larger businesses, it could be astronomical. The Chronicle reported construction businesses alone could be hit with $10-$12 billion in costs to comply. Consumers would ultimately pay the price. Overall, it's a lose/lose deal.

But the revelations by the Chronicle showed the truth of the matter: The pollution estimates used by CARB to set the air standards were over calculated by 340 percent!

Wyatt Buchanan, writing for the paper's Sacramento bureau, said CARB "grossly miscalculated."

What an understatement, given the financial hit paid by hundreds of people since the regulations were issued.

Interestingly enough, when the paper asked CARB chairwoman Mary Nichols how such a error could have been made, she said, "I can't answer that for you."

When asked if she was concerned that other calculations might be suspect, she replied, "No, no, no, no, no, no, no and no."

Wow! It must be nice to have such confidence, especially since the lead scientist who made the calculations was shown to have lied about getting his doctorate from U.C. Davis, and Nichols didn't tell the CARB board about that before they voted to impose the regulations.

In what may be the understatement of this whole sordid mess is the comment by Ron Roberts, a 15-year board member and a Republican supervisor from San Diego County: "One of the hardest things about being on the board is separating fact from political fancy."

Of course, that hasn't stopped him from collecting his paycheck.

Since 1967, Californians have been subject to the independent and often arbitrary decisions by CARB, which wields enormous power over everyone and everything in the state.

The idea was that the appointed board and its growing bureaucracy would make decisions concerning the air quality of the environment and keep things "healthy" in California. The goal is to keep California air clean and to mitigate and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

What CARB says is law, despite public hearings. Generally speaking, whatever CARB wants, CARB gets and the public, private businesses and the economy be damned.

The scope of what CARB controls and regulates is astonishing: new and old vehicles and their emissions, fuel retrofit systems, composition of fuels, fuel additives, engines of all types (indoor and outdoor use) and their fuels, ignition systems, vapor recovery from vehicles, industry, businesses and homes, construction projects, manufacturing, refineries, consumer products, agriculture, energy sources, port and rail movement of goods, mobile sources of pollution, particulate matter, smoke, dry cleaners, charcoal liters, open burning, on and off road motorcycles, electric golf carts and, I suspect, anything else they can think of.

While it's easy to laugh at such attempts to control our lives, it isn't funny because they are doing it and have the power of the state and the feds behind them.

When new regulations are issued, people comply or get driven out of business, have their right to make personal decisions eliminated or are forced to pay massive fines – or, all of that.

I remember years ago when I was working in TV news in Los Angeles and we were dealing with some of the early CARB regulations to regulate auto emissions – we joked in the news room – "what are they going to do next, regulate lawnmowers and barbecue fires?"

Uh, yes. That's exactly what they've done, and they aren't finished.

But right now, we have to deal with where we are.

CARB, knowing the Chronicle was about to publish the report on the gross over-estimate of pollution on Friday, apparently took evasive action on Thursday.

CARB announced it will give businesses more time to comply with the emission standards for those off-highway diesel vehicles.

It says it's doing it because of the down economy. Because of its "concern" for the welfare of California businesses, the start time for compliance will be pushed to 2014.

How generous. I'm certain businesses that already have taken the financial hit such regulations have imposed are heartened that CARB "recognizes the severe financial hardships" the economy has caused.

It's always nice to know government bureaucracies have a heart.

Note: It didn't change the requirements even though they're based on incorrect calculations. It has just extended the compliance dates. It'll still cost uncounted billions of dollars and economic grief for businesses of all sizes.

It's disgusting and outrageous.

As a Californian subject to the mess CARB creates in our lives, and as an American who knows that the rest of the country copies what California does, I believe that Mary Nichols should be fired and the California Air Resources board should be abolished.

But I'm not holding my breath.

Barbara Simpson, "The Babe in the Bunker," as she's known to her KSFO 560 radio talk-show audience in San Francisco, has a 20-year radio, TV and newspaper career in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.