Business owners will have more time to comply with California's tough diesel emissions standards for trucks, school buses and construction equipment under more relaxed rules that air quality officials adopted on Friday.
The Air Resources Board passed the regulations unanimously, saying businesses struggling during a recession need more time to replace or upgrade aging equipment.
Clean air advocates countered that the move only ensured more harmful soot would be emitted into California's air.
"The board is trying to balance the needs of our citizens for cleaner air with the state of the economy," said Mary Nichols, board chairman.
Pollution Declines in Recession
The board has acknowledged its staff had overestimated pollution created by construction equipment, buses and trucks. It said there are about 200,000 fewer construction vehicles in California than the board initially thought, mostly due to fewer vehicles in use because of the recession.
The amended rules would still achieve the same amount of diesel emissions reduction over time, but with a $1.5 billion for those being regulated, Nichols said.
Soot from diesel exhaust is associated with a number of ailments, including cancer and heart disease. The state's regulations seek to reduce emissions 50% by 2014, with a 70% reduction by 2020.
Still, clean air advocates were not satisfied.
"We've come to expect California to lead the nation on clean air. In this case, it's leading us in the wrong direction," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch in Washington, D.C. "It is simply shifting the costs to those who breathe the dirty air from diesel engines. They will now pay more in health care costs."
Rules Delayed Four Years
California's 2007 off-road diesel emissions rules require tractors, bulldozers, pavers and other types of equipment to be replaced or retrofitted over the next 15 years.
The improvements were originally scheduled to begin in March 2010 for larger fleets, with smaller fleets starting later. The new rules push the start date back to 2014, giving companies more time to start using cleaner equipment.
"The decision to significantly revise the state's off-road diesel emissions rules gives hope to thousands of construction workers fearful for their job security while safeguarding California's air quality," said Brian Turmail, a spokesman for the Associated General Contractors of America.
For big rigs, trucks and buses, the new rules give owners an extra year until 2012 to install particulate filters. Also, by 2023 the state's fleet will be required to have engines made no earlier than 2010.
Small Buses No Longer Exempt
Also, the new rules give owners of large school buses another year to install filters, but require smaller buses, mostly used for special needs children and previously exempt, to install filters.
The new rules also exempt 150,000 lighter trucks previously covered under the regulations, but owners are still required to replace lighter trucks when they are 20 years old.
Clean air advocates said the rules would likely effect air quality most in low income neighborhoods.
"The brunt of the pollution burden will be felt by the low-income communities living near major highways, agricultural areas and industrial centers," said Elizabeth Jonasson, the Coalition for Clean Air's campaign and outreach associate in the San Joaquin Valley."
The air board is meeting about the diesel rules one day after approving the nation's most extensive system of financial incentives for power plants, refineries and other major polluters to emit fewer greenhouse gases.