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Contractors say CARB's decision not to enforce diesel regs 'meaningless'

The California Air Resources Board said Thursday it will delay enforcement of diesel emissions regulations for off-road equipment. The decision came in response to a petition filed Jan. 11 by the Associated General Contractors of America, in which the group requested implementation of the regulations be postponed until 2013.

CARB issued an advisory to notify stakeholders that "effective immediately, and until further notice, no enforcement action will be taken for noncompliance," said CARB Executive Officer James Goldstene in a statement.

However, the agency plans to seek a waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to resume enforcement of the regulations as soon as possible.

AGC argued in its petition that reduced economic activity has cut emissions to the level CARB hoped to achieve by 2012 by implementing the regulations. The regulations are not necessary to achieve federally mandated air quality standards until 2013, when accelerated regulations would create further reductions, the group said.

AGC also says struggling construction firms do not have the capital to retrofit and retire thousands of older vehicles, as the regulations require. CARB’s decision acknowledged the dire state of many construction businesses.

“Over the last several years, the construction industry has felt the sting of the faltering economy with reduced activity and idled off-road equipment. This has made it difficult for contractors to pay for required clean-air upgrades to their fleets. Along with this, reduced construction activity has been a corresponding reduction in construction emissions,” Goldstene said.

Contractors believe CARB’s decision is “as legally meaningless as it is economically damaging,” said Mike Kennedy, AGC general counsel in a statement.

The rule creates uncertainty for contractors because at any point, the U.S. EPA can grant CARB a waiver and immediately resume enforcement, said Tom Brown, president of Vista-based grading contractor Sierra Pacific West.

After meeting with Governor Schwarzenegger’s staff on Wednesday, Brown was disappointed with Thursday’s outcome.

“The message from the governor was loud and clear,” Brown said. “The governor wants jobs.”

The rule will further eliminate jobs for operators of heavy construction equipment. The unemployment rate for such workers has risen to 40 percent, Brown said.

“The decision to enforce the rule as soon as legally possible sends a chilling message to a construction industry that has lost over 116,000 jobs statewide this past year,” Kennedy said in a statement.

CARB also stated in its response, that it plans to hold a March 11 hearing in Sacramento, “where stakeholders may testify on the question of whether the off-road regulations should be further modified to account for the down economy and subsequent emissions reduction”.

Information obtained during that meeting will be presented during an already-scheduled update on the impact of the recession on diesel emissions at the board’s April meeting.

CARB will also hold a meeting on Feb. 26 to discuss the science the diesel rules are based upon.

Send your comments to Monica.Unhold@sddt.com

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