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Blindsided by regulations: Small diesel equipment owners struggle

It first became apparent two years ago when a Sacramento couple, Amber and Ken Parsons, sold their home and plowed the equity into their dream business, Performance Concrete Pumping Inc. They purchased a new trailer-mounted concrete pump from a machinery dealer in Oakland for $45,000.

"We buy new equipment because it gives us less problems," Amber Parsons told Dan Fauchier, public works liaison for the San Diego Engineering & General Contractors Association (EGCA). "We have liability insurance, workers' comp, all our licenses; we try to do everything above board," Parsons added.

Making about $300 per project, within a year the Parsons bought a second machine from an equipment dealer in Freemont. For both machines, they filled out all the paperwork and registrations they were told about by the DMV (which requires a motor carrier permit), the California Highway Patrol (for a "CA" license for the trailer and an "SE" special equipment plate for the pump) and by two different equipment manufacturers and two separate equipment dealers. The Parsons did not need a state contractors license because they are merely an equipment provider to licensed contractors who actually place the concrete.

Long story short, the Parsons were never told their "new" equipment was already illegal in California when they missed a 2005 "amnesty" deadline not known to them, their equipment dealers, the DMV, the CHP and many others. The fines and months of negotiations with state and local air pollution officials took a toll, until finally, with the full-throated backing of the construction industry, the California Air Resources Board reversed itself and made a special provision to extend their filing deadline.

For thousands of other California small businesses that own small diesel engines, the story has not been as bright. Two years of enforcement and fines for small portable engines have left a trail of confusion that continues, despite industry's efforts to get the word out.

New idling rules

Now, a year after CARB passed a sweeping Off-Road In-Use Diesel Engine Regulation affecting 180,000 pieces of diesel equipment statewide, the confusion continues for many smaller companies. A recent example is the new requirement that off-road diesel engines be shut down after five minutes of idling.

While the rule, on its face, seems like a good idea -- reduce pollution, save fuel -- the five-minute rule has not been well advertised, and an estimated thousands of small business equipment owners remain unaware of their exposure to severe fines of up to $10,000 a day per engine ($40,000 a day if the violation is deemed "willful").

Likewise, these equipment owners must have a formal idling policy broadly distributed to their equipment operators and paperwork violations are also $10,000 a day.

Enforcement of this little known rule is merely a precursor to aggressive enforcement of the broader Off-Road In-Use Diesel Engine Rule, which requires registration of all equipment beginning in March 2009.

Industry associations like EGCA are scrambling to get the word out to members and non-members alike.

"The industry must pull together and raise awareness of these new rules and the stiff fines being levied on large and small firms alike," said Mike Shaw, president of Perry & Shaw and incoming 2009 EGCA president.

"EGCA is holding classes for diesel equipment owners to educate them on all these new rules," said Executive Director Debbie Day, "and these classes are open to everyone. You don't need to be an EGCA member to attend these classes."

More information can be found at www.egca.org or by calling (619) 692-0760.

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