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Diesel rules are adopted

Andrew Cristancho

The California Air Resource Board last week adopted the nation’s toughest regulations on emissions from diesel-powered equipment used off-road in construction, mining and ski resort grooming.

Vehicles that must meet the tough new standards include bulldozers, loaders, backhoes and forklifts and many other diesel vehicles that are not legal for regular road use. Larger companies must comply by 2010, while smaller firms have until 2015 to replace their diesel-powered equipment. In all, 180,000 vehicles will have to be replaced or retrofitted.

On-road vehicles powered by diesel engines, including many public transit buses, are not yet subject to emission-control regulations in California.

The new regulations will have an uncertain impact on the Tahoe-Truckee area’s many excavation and snow removal businesses.

Executive Director Pat Davison of the 259-member Contractors Association of Truckee Tahoe said most of her members are classified as small-fleet operators with equipment that has combined horsepower of 2,500 or less, which means the deadline for compliance does not start until 2015. However, she suggested that the responsibility for compliance should not have fallen on small businesses.

“There is disappointment among members that the emphasis is on the end-user instead of the industry manufacturers,” Davison said.

Vehicles with newer emission-controlled engines will meet the regulation’s tough standards on exhaust outflow, but older, dirtier engines will be required to have a diesel soot filter installed, or the engine must be replaced. Some diesel power plants may be too old for the retrofit filter and, according to local heavy equipment mechanic Ken Knudsen, some vehicles are not designed to accommodate the cleaner engines.

Karla Pombo, co-owner of the Truckee-based Al Pombo excavation firm, said she would like to see a longer compliance period for older vehicles. The company has close to 25 off-road vehicles that will most likely be affected.

“We’re not real happy about [the rule],” said Pombo. “It’s going to render a lot of equipment useless.”

Aaron Jensen of Heavy Equip Incorporated operates 15 pieces of diesel equipment and is worried about safety issues that the soot scrubbers could create. He said that the units look like a 2-by-3-foot boxes mounted on the back of a vehicle, which could distort or obscure sight-lines.

State clean-air officials said the regulations will save lives.

“This regulation will prevent thousands of premature deaths and reduce health-care costs for those suffering from respiratory disease such as asthma,” Air Resource Board Chairman Mary Nichols said in a press release. “It is also the first of its kind in the nation, and, as has occurred with other California regulations, could serve as a model for other states to follow.”

The Air Resources Board’s directors conducted an economic statewide study of the rule’s impacts on business, and concluded that the regulation would cost industry $3.5 billion over its lifetime.

Air Resources Board Public Information Officer Karen Caesar said some industries are exempt from the regulation including operations that are dedicated to emergency snow removal and agricultural firms that commit at least 50 percent of their fleet-use to growing and harvesting crops.

Also exempt are owners of vehicles that can prove fewer than 100 hours of vehicle operation. Officials at the Air Resources Board estimate that an average small-business owner would need to spend about $52 per horsepower over a span of 10 years to bring a small fleet into compliance.

Financial help is available for some construction firms in the form of the Carl Moyer Fund: A $140 million annual state fund that makes grants available to business owners who go above and beyond compliance by upgrading dirtier engines sooner than required.

Davison said the next step at the Truckee-Tahoe contractor’s association will be to look into potential funding assistance.

“We’ll be looking at how to secure funding programs like other resource air-quality districts [have] to help our members,” she said.

The rule aims to reduce diesel particulate matter, soot, by 74 percent and oxides of nitrogen that are a cause of smog by 32 percent by the year 2020.

In 1998 the state of California identified diesel soot as a toxic air contaminant. Action on the new regulation began when Air Resource Board officials established California’s Diesel Risk Reduction Plan in 2000. The measure seeks to reduce diesel emissions in the state to 85 percent below year 2000 levels by 2020.

According to the air board’s estimates, the new rule will prevent at least 4,000 premature deaths state-wide and avoid $26 billion in premature death and health costs over the life of the rule.

Firms that use heavy equipment will need to comply according to their fleet size and the combined horsepower of that fleet. According to an Air Resources Board report there are three fleet classifications. Small; defined as having 2,500 combined horsepower or less and must begin compliance by 2015. Medium; defined as having 2,501 to 5,000 combined horsepower and must begin compliance by 2013. Large fleets; defined as having over 5,000 combined horsepower must begin compliance by 2010.

Questions about what to do?

Call the California Air Resource Board compliance hotline: 1-866-6-Diesel


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