Upheaval at the California Air Resources Board
3 July 2007
|The off-road regulations are intended to help address these non-attainment areas. Click to enlarge. Source: ARB|
The California Air Resources Board (ARB)—the state organization chartered with providing safe, clean air to Californians and thus the group tasked with implementing the state’s advanced air pollution and greenhouse gas regulations—has been in turmoil recently.
Last week, ARB Chairman Dr. Robert Sawyer told the Los Angeles Times that he had been fired by Governor Schwarzenegger for refusing to follow orders to limit the number of immediate greenhouse gas regulations (earlier post), and for refusing to fire Air Resources Board Executive Officer Catherine Witherspoon.
“I was fired, I did not resign...The entire issue is the independence of the board, and that’s why I got fired,” Sawyer said in a telephone interview with The Times.
Sawyer said he had declined to fire the agency’s embattled executive director, Catherine Witherspoon, and objected when his longtime communications director Jerry Martin was also fired, then reassigned to another agency by the governor’s office without notifying him. Finally, last week, he said he was called by a Cabinet secretary who ordered him to limit to three the number of so-called early action measures the board was considering to slow global warming.
...Sawyer, ignoring the order he had received, unsuccessfully sought to persuade fellow board members to add more measures to the list.
The Los Angeles Times linked the upheaval partly to pressure on the Governor’s office from the state’s construction industry over the upcoming issuance of stringent off-road diesel emission rules, still currently under development.
Witherspoon resigned on Monday, 2 July, and charged that the Governor’s top staff had been interfering in favor of industry lobbyists seeking to weaken or stall air pollution regulations, including the state’s landmark global warming law and the proposed regulations for diesel construction equipment and wood products containing formaldehyde.
The Governor’s administration countered that those were the comments of a disgruntled employee. Witherspoon, The Times noted, was an often controversial figure in her 27 years at the Board, particularly after she signed secret agreements with the nation’s largest railroads to voluntarily reduce diesel pollution rather than mandating reductions.
Seeking to quell the uproar, Governor Schwarzenegger (a Republican) today appointed Mary Nichols as the new ARB Chair. Nichols served as ARB Chair 30 years ago under then-Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. (a Democrat). She also served as Secretary of Resources under Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, and as a high-ranking environmental official in the Clinton administration.
...the appointment of Nichols, one of the state’s first environmental attorneys, is likely to blunt complaints from administration critics that Schwarzenegger’s actions on the environment are not living up to his bold promises.
“She’s superb, and she will be an independent person,” [former ARB chair] Sawyer said. “I’ve known Mary for a long time, we’ve served together on the air board, and I would find it hard to think of a better person.”
He said under Nichols’ previous tenure as air board chair, historic regulations were implemented on unleaded gasoline, catalytic converters and other regulations that helped cement the board's reputation as the world’s most innovative and toughest air pollution agency.
The off-road emissions regulations. Nichols will be plunging right in to a number of major issues: the implementation of AB32 (the state’s greenhouse gas limits law); the struggle with the EPA over AB1493 (the implementation of the state’s restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from light-duty vehicles); and the impending set of regulations for off-road diesel equipment.
The off-road regulations are extremely sensitive issue for the construction industry because of the dramatic changes it would enforce, and because of the costs associated with that change.
The ARB meeting in May, which considered both changes to the ZEV regulations and the impending off-road regulations, spanned two days. The first day was dedicated to ZEV, and saw dozens of electric vehicle advocates attend. (Earlier post.) The second day was primarily focused on the off-road emissions regulations, and drew hundreds opposed to the new regulations to the board meeting, some of whom picketed outside prior to entering.
Existing off-road diesel vehicles are responsible for nearly 25% of the diesel particulate matter (PM) emissions and nearly a 20% of the oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions from mobile diesel sources statewide. These emissions have significant adverse health impacts, according to research cited by the ARB, including causing an estimated 1,100 premature deaths per year in California.
Under the new regulations, manufacturers of new off-road vehicles will be required to meet strict aftertreatment-based emission standards for PM and NOx beginning in 2011. However, since many off-road vehicles in use today were manufactured before the mid-1990s when the first emission standards took effect, and since some off-road diesel vehicles have an actual life in excess of 30 years, controlling emissions from existing vehicles is essential, according to ARB.
The proposed regulation would require fleet owners to accelerate turnover to cleaner engines and install exhaust retrofits. The regulation would apply to any person, business or government agency that owns or operates diesel-powered off-road vehicles in California (except agriculture) whose engines have a maximum power of 25 horsepower (hp) or greater.
That affects not only the construction industry, but also mining, landscaping, airlines, retail, wholesale, equipment rental, skiing, oil and gas drilling, recycling and utilities.
Under the regulation, diesel PM emissions from existing offroad diesel vehicles would decrease by 92% from the 2000 baseline. The regulation is expected to reduce diesel PM emissions by 5.2 tons per day (tpd) and NOx emissions by 48 tpd in 2020.
The cumulative PM and NOx emissions reductions from 2010 to 2030 are expected to prevent approximately 4,000 premature deaths and tens of thousands of cases of asthma-related and other lower respiratory symptoms.
The ARB estimates that there will be significant health cost savings of $18 to $26 billion over this time period, primarily from avoided premature deaths. ARB estimates the total cost of the regulations is expected to be between $3.0 and $3.4 billion, in 2006 dollars. The state’s construction companies say it could be at least three times that amount.
The ARB will have another public meeting on the off-road regulations on 26 July.
ARB Staff Presentation for workshop on regulations (18 June 2007)
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Upheaval at the California Air Resources Board: