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The un-greening of California's budget?


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's bid to be known as America's greenest governor may take a hit this week if his new budget agreement, hammered out in secret with legislative leaders, weakens air pollution rules and guts mass-transit funding.

Environmentalists raised a ruckus Thursday as word leaked out that the budget "framework" to be voted on this weekend would delay requirements for construction companies to retrofit diesel equipment. "This budget will lead to more asthma, more heart disease and more premature deaths for Californians, and it will also mean higher healthcare costs," said Don Anair of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The off-road diesel regulations, adopted in 2007, were the first in the nation to require construction companies to retrofit existing bulldozers, scrapers and other heavy equipment. The state's Air Resources Board said that the soot-spewing equipment is responsible each year for an estimated 1,100 premature deaths and more than 1,000 hospitalizations for heart and lung disease, along with tens of thousands of asthma attacks.

According to Bill Magavern, the Sierra Club's Sacramento lobbyist, the budget compromise could mean a 17% reduction in pollution cuts by 2014.

The state's powerful building industry, now suffering in the recession, has mounted a strong lobbying effort against the regulations. "This rule will needlessly force builders to throw away billions of dollars' worth of equipment," Jim Ryan, executive vice president of the San Diego chapter of the Associated General Contractors, said in a recent statement.

Brian Turmail, a spokesman for the contractors association in Washington, said a relaxation of the rule would be "welcome news for the thousands of construction workers that have lost their jobs across the state."  The rule was "well intended," he said, but "would have forced thousands of small-business owners to replace perfectly good equipment instead of putting Californians back to work."

As for mass transit, the proposal reportedly suspends all state support for local transportation for the remainder of 2009 as well as next year, according to environmentalists. That would bring mass-transit funding cuts to $3 billion over the last two budgets.

However, several environmental measures sought by Republicans were reportedly excluded from the proposed budget framework, including a prohibition on the consideration of greenhouse gases in state environmental impact reviews, and a weakening of pesticide rules.

Whatever the outcome, many are hoping that, somehow, budget brinkmanship can be curbed. "Reform of the budget process -- especially the elimination of the two-thirds requirement for passing budgets and taxes -- is desperately needed to prevent this kind of fiscal blackmail," Magavern said.

-- Margot Roosevelt

Photo: Bulldozer frames a polluted downtown Los Angeles. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (4)

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Having been involved in the legislative process actively for more than 30 years, it is not surprising to see that, once again, when the when the doors are closed the bad guys win. Like most polluters, the construction industry, truckers, farmers and others want to use the lives and health of breathers to provide a source of competitive advantage. Having a tough time making a buck? Quick, kill or cripple a kid--and in this case that is no exaggeration. Normal kids who breathe black carbon, another name for diesel soot, suffer a roughly 35 percent reduction in their ability to forcibly exhale. This is a life-long, irreversible loss linked in later life to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the third leading cause of respiratory death, trailing only passive and active smoking.

Moreover, black carbon, again principally diesel soot, causes global warming especially in icy and snow covered areas by making them darker, so they absorb more sunlight, thus causing melting. For those of you who wonder why California's snowpack, on which the state's agricultural industry is dependent, has been shrinking in recent years, part off the answer is diesel soot, which some scientists estimate to be second only to carbon dioxide as a cause of global warming. That also reduces runoff and the electricity that can be made from it, thus boosting power costs to every consumer in the state.

If what is reported is true and the diesel requirements are being rolled back, that is, quite literally, a decision to kill the state's men, women and children. Moreover, most of the soot is so fine that it can, and does, drift for hundreds to thousands of miles, visiting death downwind and, eventually, causing melting in the Arctic. Unlike smog, which can be avoided by going inside, soot particles are so small that they pass through heating and cooling systems. The stuff is everywhere, so it is impossible to avoid it. The only way people can be protected is for diesels to be retrofitted with devices that trap and burn the soot.

Of course, these devices, call trap oxidizers, cost money. But money is only one way of measuring value, and often it is the worst. Yes, a builder will save a few bucks, and, yes, those costs will be passed on. The alternative is to subsidize a bulldozer owner or the owner of goods hauled in an 18-wheeler with the health of not only California's children, but also others who breathe, as well as mountain snowpack and Arctic ice. That's a pretty steep price to pay.
Curtis Moore
Editor and Publisher,
Health & Clean Air Newsletter

The weakening of a key state air quality regulation in the proposed budget is a sad outcome of a flawed budget process. Regulatory rollbacks will not solve the state’s economic problems and will cause tremendous harm to public health. Diesel soot is the top source of toxic air pollution that people breathe in California. Delay of the construction equipment rule will mean more asthma attacks, cases of chronic bronchitis and other lung illnesses, heart attacks, strokes and premature deaths from diesel pollution. It's important to remember that Californians already suffer the worst air pollution and some of the highest asthma rates in the country, and these problems already add up to billions of dollars in health costs every year. Regulatory shortcuts will only drive California in the wrong direction for public health and add to the economic woes.

I don't know why construction companies would need to replace their fleet with new machines that are cleaner. They simply need to use biodiesel in their existing heavy machines. This should go a long way in satisfying the clean air requirements.

As for scrapping funding for transit projects, that is the short sighted thinking that has perpetually cobbled our state from having a comprehensive network of transit options that will move people and product around without the high costs of gridlock, pollution and personal injury caused from collisions. When the next gas spike hits, we are going to be just as furious with our limited options but we will still pay through the nose to the oil industry to fill up our tanks. Do you see a an unhealthy pattern here?


The big issue is the democrat legislature trying to raise taxes on EVERYTHING!
My four year old truck will now cost $900 to register next year.
I will pay an addition $360 in gas taxes next year. Not including the extra sales taxes I will have to pay. A a middle class citizen, I just can't afford to live in California any more. Unless you're super rich or an illegal alien, California has way too many problems and the democrat legislature is hell bent to make it even worse.


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