CARB moves effective date for compliance to January 2014

CALIFORNIA – Construction companies with significant investments in off-road equipment could have four more years to get cleaner-burning engines in those vehicles under an agreement reached last week between air regulators and a large construction trade group.

The agreement between California Air Resources Board and Associated General Contractors of America moves the effective date for compliance to Jan. 1, 2014, according to comments from board Chairwoman Mary Nichols and association general counsel Mike Kennedy in a press teleconference Thursday. The deal will be reviewed by the board at its December meeting along with proposed changes to the rule.

That's 12 months ahead of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deadline for states to reduce emissions under the National Clean Diesel Campaign, Ms. Nichols said.

"There already are requirements under way with reporting fleet information and avoiding idling equipment and labeling requirements," she said. "We have simplified and made the path to compliance easier."

Beyond being given more time, additional changes to the agreement include:

* Increasing "low-use" equipment exempted from the rule, partly because of idled business.

* Smaller fleets would have simplified compliance options. For example, a company that retrofitted an engine because spending thousands of dollars would be less expensive than spending tens of thousands on new equipment would then have to retire that retrofitted equipment in a few years under current regulatory language, according to Ms. Nichols.

* Companies that retrofit or replace engines before the deadlines would get more incentives.

* Requirements for annual reductions in emissions would be lowered.

The air board adopted the off-road diesel equipment rule in July 2007. Limits on idling and bans on sales of old engines started in 2008, followed by mandatory reporting and equipment labeling last year.

Requirements for the largest fleets to start limiting emissions was supposed to start in March of this year, but the air board in February suspended that enforcement until 2012 because the economic recession had hit the construction industry the hardest and a late 2009 study by a U.C. Berkeley environmental engineer found that off-road diesel emissions projections were overstated by 3.1 to 4.5 times.

Associated General Contractors commissioned its own study of 2009 state data on off-road diesel fleet emissions and also found a large disparity between targets in the rule and actual emissions. The group called for a halt in enforcement until 2016 because emissions already were far below targets.

Air board staff did its own rechecking of the projections and came to a similar conclusion, Ms. Nichols said. That led to the agreement "very recently," she added.

"The AGC and we recognized that we were close enough that it was worth it to make an extra effort to agree, rather than to co-exist or go forward with the normal regulatory process," Ms. Nichols said.

Financial incentives for contractors, such as benefits provided by the 2005 federal Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, will accelerate the move to cleaner-burning engines, according to Mr. Kennedy of Associated General Contractors.

"I think you will see a lot of activity between now and 2014," he said.

Large local construction companies that have had the capital structure to rotate out older engines or vehicles ahead of the original deadline are a little disadvantaged by this delay of regulation, according to John Bly, executive vice president of the Engineering Contractors Association of Northern California.

"What it really does is help CARB get their stuff together and reach out to the industry to find out what really works for the environment and the industry," he said. "You have to put rules out there that can actually be adhered to."

Mark Soiland, head of operations for Stony Point Rock Quarry in Santa Rosa, said all the heavy equipment was upgraded last year to comply with the air board's original targets.

"We felt it was the right thing to do, though it was not a cheap move," he said. "With the downturn in the economy, many companies will really struggle to make the changes to their fleets prior to the deadline."

Still, he said he supported efforts to extend the compliance deadline because of the effects the slowdown in construction activity has had on companies' finances and reduced emissions.

For more information, call 866-6-DIESEL or visit www.arb.ca.gov/msprog/ordiesel/ordiesel.htm.