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State’s Off-Road Diesel Emissions Rule Puts Lives at Risk, Force Job Cuts, Says AGC

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California’s plan to require construction contractors to install large and expensive emissions reduction kits on their off-road diesel equipment will put workers’ lives at risk and force job cuts, a prominent union official and a member of the Associated General Contractors of America told federal officials in Washington, D.C. this week.

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As a result, both asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration to deny or delay a decision to allow the state to proceed with its off-road rule.

“Denying this rule is the only way to protect the men and women working in California’s construction industry from a new and grave risk of injury and death,” says Guy Prescott, a representative of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local Union Three. “This rule will lead to additional fatalities.”

Prescott notes that the large filters and new exhaust pipes that are part of many emissions reduction kits can impair visibility and greatly increase the risk of burns. Noting that obstructed lines of site are already a leading cause of fatal collisions with construction workers, he says the rule would increase the chance more workers would be hurt and killed.

Prescott adds that his union had tried several times to warn the California Air Resources Board about the safety hazards of retrofitting existing equipment, but his union had been repeatedly ignored. “The board is biased in favor of retrofits and incapable of making impartial determinations about the hazards they pose,” he says.

Meanwhile, Jon Cloud, treasurer of El Cajon-based J. Cloud Inc., a firm specializing in processing and providing recycled construction materials, told EPA officials that he has had to downsize his equipment fleet by over 30% and cut 14% of his workforce in order to cope with the cost of the new diesel emissions reductions rule.

“For too many small and family-owned businesses like ours, the only way to comply with this rule is to simply go out of business,” says Cloud. “There is no reason to believe that the technology necessary to comply with this rule at anything approach an affordable cost is going to be developed soon enough to save companies like mine.”

Cloud adds that the off-road diesel rule isn’t necessary to meet the state’s aggressive emissions targets. He notes that the Associated General Contractors of America, using new data gathered by the board last year, found that emissions from off-road diesel equipment will be below state target levels for at least several years to come. The state based its rule on an earlier emissions inventory that significantly overstated the amount of construction equipment in the state, he added.

Cloud says that AGC has already provided EPA with detailed comments on California’s request for federal approval to enforce its off-road rule. AGC wrote two letters to EPA in October of 2008, and made an extremely detailed, 183-page submission to the agency in December of the same year. AGC wrote to EPA again in March and August of 2009, and in January of this year. Included in several of these submissions were sworn statements and other evidence of the facts that California’s request requires EPA to consider.

“In advance of the May deadline, AGC will also provide written comments and additional evidence for the record of the current proceedings,” Cloud says. “AGC continues to research California’s original emissions inventory and the other underpinnings of its off-road rule, and in late April, California’s Air Resources Board will entertain proposals for further amendments to the rule. The results of both the research and the board’s next meeting are among the many factors that EPA can and should consider.”

Cloud says he would emphasize that the off-road rule is “not yet ripe for federal review.

“It has been and it remains a moving target.”

I am reminded of a meeting that California’s Air Resources Board held in San Diego,” Cloud concludes. “During that meeting, the staff looked straight into the audience – at me and my colleagues in the construction industry – and declared that ‘Some of you will have to go out of business.’ Well, I am here to tell you that the staff was wrong. The number is more than ‘some.’ To comply with the rule, most of the smaller and family-owned businesses that heavily depend on their off-road equipment will have to go out of business. Their only option is to continue to shrink until, in the end, they simply disappear.”

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