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CARB diesel amendments seen by contractors as helpful but still flawed

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In the midst of a down economy, amendments presented Tuesday to ease the transition into off-road diesel emissions regulation were mostly looked upon favorably by San Diego contractors -- but some in the industry still feel left on the losing end.

The proposed amendments, which have yet to be approved, would push back the timetables for the required adherence to several regulations previously approved by the California Air Resources Board.

The goal is to make weathering a tough economy easier for contractors running affected equipment -– a reactionary move after the regulations drew criticism as too costly for businesses during a recession.

CARB is set to make a final decision on the amendments at its Dec. 16-17 meeting.

For Jeff Wood, a Hawthorne Cat emissions specialist/consultant, moving forward with the amendments isn't enough to set contractors' minds at ease.

"You've got to get the variables -- the holes -- out of the project," Wood said, adding that he questions the methods CARB used to determine regulation in the first place.

CARB, Wood said, has told contractors that data used to create a baseline for regulation was pulled from the engine control modules of various pieces of equipment.

To this day, Woods added, he still doesn't know the details of what conditions that equipment was under when it was tested, which he said would make a big difference in measured emissions.

"I don't know how many ECMs they tested, but … at best, it's a guess," Wood said.

If the amendments are adopted by CARB, they would help contractors by delaying the start of emissions requirements by two years for all fleets, some of the largest of which would have had to begin complying this year.

Large fleets, those with a size of more than 5,000 horsepower, wouldn't have to comply until March 1, 2012.

Medium fleets of 2,501 horsepower to 5,000 horsepower would have until March 1, 2015 to comply and small fleets -- those at 2,500 horsepower or less -- would be given until March 1, 2017.

Additionally, the amendments would allow turnover in lieu of costly retrofitting, lower annual requirements to clean up engines to no more than 5-10 percent -- reduced from 28-30 percent, extended double credits for early retrofits and an increase in the low-use threshold.

Despite the proposed relief, Wood left Tuesday's CARB workshop with a little more trust in CARB and its agenda than before the meeting.

With CARB staff openly stating at the meeting that they "now believe the emissions are quite a bit lower than we previously thought," Wood suggested the entire set of regulations, and the proposed amendments, be done away with in favor of new regulation using updated numbers and transparent science.

The two-year pushback is likely to make transition to regulation-compliant equipment easier, Wood said, but his distrust in CARB remains.

"You get the feeling that they're just hanging onto all this regulation," Wood said. "I look at it as a window of opportunity to get it right. If we're going to stop this thing for two years, lets take the time to do a better job."

Send your comments to James.Palen@sddt.com

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