Major Builders Group Fighting Calif.'s Off-Road Diesel Emissions Standard

The Associated General Contractors of America says it will continue to oppose California's effort to set new standards to reduce exhaust emissions from off-road diesel equipment. California is the only state the Clean Air Act permits to set its own engine exhaust standards. AGC says the debate over off-road diesel equipment began in 2005, when the California Air Resources Board (CARB) announced it planned to impose much more stringent standards; CARB completed its work on those standards in April of this year.

California cannot enforce its new standards until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reviews and approves them. In December, EPA rejected a waiver submitted by the state of California that would allow stricter emissions standards than those set by EPA -- the first time California had received a rejection in 40 years. Now, California is suing EPA to reverse that decision.

CARB says revelations from a report issued by the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform show EPA Administrator Steve Johnson reversed his original decision to grant California a waiver to enforce its clean car law after communications with the White House. After U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer/. D-Calif., introduced a bill that would reverse EPA’s decision, CARB Chairman Mary Nichols issued the following public statement: "We applaud the fact that Senator Boxer's bill to overturn administrator Johnson's illegal denial of California's waiver request made it out of the committee. This is a significant step forward but only one skirmish in the battle to secure our rights and protect the environment. We will continue to fight for the waiver in the courts, we will press our case with the public, and we will not stop demanding that the federal administration obeys the law. Fourteen states representing almost half the vehicles in the nation and tens of millions of consumers need clean cars now that reduce greenhouse gases and save money at the pump.”

Earlier this month, CARB issued a technical study (PDF) that further supported its stance for the new standard. CARB says the study conclusively demonstrates that California's clean cars law (the Pavley regulations) achieves 41 percent greater total reductions of greenhouse gases nationwide compared to the recently proposed federal fuel economy standards by 2020. In 2020, California's clean car law will result in the equivalent of removing an additional 14 million cars compared to the federal standards.

"We applaud the federal fuel economy standards. They will help reduce our use of fossil fuels," Nichols said, "but they simply do not provide us with adequate protection against climate change. The California regulation is the only one that deals directly with greenhouse gases, and it stands head and shoulders above the federal standards. It will ensure that auto manufacturers provide consumers with cleaner cars using readily available technology to reduce pollution and fight global warming." The new CARB study is based on a comparison of greenhouse gas reductions from cars and trucks under the California standards and under the federal schedule for fuel economy standards proposed for 2011 through 2015.

During the rulemaking, AGC submitted four separate sets of comments, affidavits, and expert reports totaling more than 300 pages. In the comments, AGC argued CARB had:

  • understated the cost of retrofitting or replacing the existing equipment;
  • overstated the options for repowering such equipment with entirely new engines;
  • undercounted the amount of existing equipment and exaggerated its natural turnover rate;
  • exaggerated the resale value of the equipment the rule would render useless in California;
  • wrongly assumed that construction contractors can simply pass all cost increases along to their clients, without regard to the competitive forces at work in the construction marketplace;
  • failed to account for the rule's impact on contractors' net worth and, in turn, their ability to finance the required investments; and
  • disregarded downstream effects on employment in the construction industry and the time and cost of making critical improvements to the state's infrastructure.

In addition, AGC argued that “major engine manufacturers cannot make a public commitment to providing the technical support that the construction industry needs to comply with the rule. At this point, it remains far from clear that compliance is even possible.”

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