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CARB to postpone off-road diesel regs

California Air Resources Board (CARB) voted unanimously Thursday to amend regulations for off-road diesel vehicle emissions. The action postpones enforcement of strict emissions sanctions and increases the incentives available for retrofitting vehicles.

The decision was aimed at reducing the financial strain the regulations would have placed on the already struggling construction industry, board members said.

Under the amended regulations, owners of off-road diesel equipment -- primarily used in construction -- will be required to retrofit vehicles by 2013. The original legislation approved by CARB in July 2007 outlined a series of deadlines for the retrofits, many coming into play in 2010 and 2011.

“Fewer actions would be required for the 2011 through 2012 dates but it would require fleets to make up for it by 2013,” said Board Member Daniel Sperling.

Delayed enforcement of emissions reductions is expected to reduce the level of health benefits the board had expected to achieve. The regulations were expected to prevent 4,000 premature deaths due to respiratory illness caused by poor air quality, according to the staff report.

"I have asthma," said Ron Roberts, a CARB board member and San Diego County Supervisor. “I don’t want to compromise any of these things.”

However, Roberts said the amendment was necessary in order to prevent the loss of more construction jobs in “very troubled times.”

CARB hopes still to achieve significant emissions reductions by offering double incentives for vehicle retrofits that reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions. The board’s action also makes retrofits in small or medium fleets that reduce particulate matter (PM) emissions eligible for double incentives through March 1, 2012; and grants a lifetime turnover exemption to retrofitted vehicles capped at 15 percent of a fleet’s horsepower.

In order to reduce emissions generated by some vehicles, owners will have to repower, or swap out their engines with cleaner burning alternatives. With such vehicles, an owner can acquire a credit for the repower if completed before required.

The public hearing held at the County Administration Building was attended by approximately 70 representatives of construction companies, manufacturers of retrofit devices and environmental and health advocacy groups such as the American Lung Association.

“It’s going to help a lot, but it’s not an end-all,” Scott Erreca, senior vice president of local contracting firm Erreca’s Inc. said of the amendments to the diesel regulations.

Large fleet owners cannot afford to make the retrofits necessary to comply with the regulations, Erreca said. Equipment once valued at $700,000 a piece now sells at auction for between $200,000 and $300,000. Retrofits cost approximately $250,000. Like most firms, the company’s workload is down due to economic conditions. This year the firm’s projected volume is $40 million, down from its average $90 million, and in order to stay afloat Erreca plans to cut his staff by 30 percent.

“We need time to deal with this regulation,” Erreca said.

Mike Shaw, president of both Perry & Shaw and the Engineering and General Contractors Association San Diego Chapter, said he has been forced to reduce his staff to 20 from the 160 he employed in 2006. Today, 75 percent of his equipment fleet is idle due to lack of work.

Shaw said the figures CARB used to draft the regulations are flawed. The numbers do not reflect the 30 percent reduction in construction activity that utilizes the equipment in question. The state has likely already experienced a dramatic improvement in air quality due to the economy, and regulations should reflect that fact, he said.

CARB staff asked the board for more time to collect data reflecting current emission levels. Gathering such data could be accomplished by March of 2010, however the board rejected the request.

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