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California budget: a sooty deal?

February 18, 2009 |  8:40 pm

Getprev_2 Whatever the final outcome of California's epic struggle over taxes, the state budget is likely to roll back one of the state's landmark air pollution measures: the 2007 rule requiring builders to retrofit their bulldozers and other heavy equipment to reduce diesel dust.

In an unusually strong statement, Mary D.Nichols, the chairman of the state's Air Resources Board and an appointee of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said, "There are people who will die because of this delay. ... It is sad in an era where most people understand that strong environmental standards actually help California's economy as well as public health. ... Anti-tax zealots were able to force a weakening of our anti-diesel pollution standards as the price of a balanced budget."

Although a final budget has yet to be approved as of this posting, the diesel-standard rollback has been accepted by negotiators. It would delay requirements for builders to retrofit bulldozers, scrapers and other soot-spewing equipment and result in an estimated 17% reduction in the pollution control benefits of the rule by 2014.

Builders were hailing the relaxation of the regulations, saying it will save jobs in the construction industry. But some of the so-called green jobs that Schwarzenegger and President Obama have been championing will likely disappear. Bradley L. Edgar, CEO of Cleaire Advanced Emissions Controls, a San Leandro company, said that for every five retrofits, a new job is created. "Most of these jobs are local, because the retrofits are local," he said. "We manufacture in San Diego and source many components from California suppliers ... which translates to economic stimulus."

Environmentalists see little chance of gaining the Legislature's attention amid the budget impasse. "With the magnitude of the forces at play here, the environmental issues have taken a back seat to taxes," said Bill Magavern, California director of the Sierra Club.

No public hearings were held on a diesel rule rollback, nor has there been a debate in the Legislature. But "there were two years of public hearings on the diesel regulation that is now getting weakened," said Kathryn Phillips of the Environmental Defense Fund. "What the big construction companies couldn't get into the rule in the light of day, [they] managed to get through a back-room deal."

-- Margot Roosevelt

Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images

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