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Tuesday, Oct 22 2013 07:00 PM

LOIS HENRY: Enforcing smog rules this way is bad for business

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    Californian columnist Lois Henry

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By LOIS HENRY, Californian columnist lhenry@bakersfield.com

I've been saying for years, to no avail, that new rules requiring drastically reduced emissions from trucks, buses and heavy equipment were going to cost far more than they would ever benefit the public in terms of better health.

Now, those rules are coming home to roost.

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Lois Henry appears on "First Look with Scott Cox" every Wednesday on KERN 1180 AM from 9 to 10 a.m. The show is also broadcast live on www.bakersfield.com. You can get your two cents in by calling 842-KERN.

As predicted, the costs are already staggering.

One local company was fined $38,625 last April and another was recently fined $230,250, both for, essentially, not filtering up fast enough to suit the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

That is a lot of money for any local company to try and absorb. Especially as they continue to lay out ever more cash to try and comply with these draconian CARB rules.

For background, CARB adopted new rules back in 2008 and 2009 requiring truckers and equipment operators to either scrap their vehicles if they are past a certain age or install expensive filters to reduce emissions, specifically PM2.5 emissions. PM2.5 is particulate matter, or tiny bits of soot and ash.

Companies had until 2012 or 2013, depending on fleet size and other factors, to comply.

I know, I know, you're thinking, hey, its rules like these that keep us from having to shut down entire cities because of pollution, as China recently did in the city of Harbin. (Google it, nasty stuff!)

Yes, rules forcing emission reductions have cleaned the air.

But for these particular rules, CARB strayed from its tried and true method of requiring lower emissions on new equipment, which becomes the norm through attrition. Instead, these rules affect nearly all existing trucks and heavy equipment. The rules have made some equipment uneconomical to operate and, in some cases, even to resell.

For companies that can, and have, begun retrofitting, they still have to deal with the specter of government regulators who want it done faster.

Or, in the case of Mountainside Disposal, which operates under Price Environmental Services, regulators actually got in the way of retrofitting.

Mountainside is a refuse hauling company located in Bakersfield that was fined $38,000 for not installing filtration devices on one of its 60 trucks within CARB's timeframe.

But for the past several years, Mountainside has been installing the proper devices and sending reports to CARB with no response, said manager Ray Scott.

"They never responded so we thought we were in compliance," Scott said. "It's not like regulators came here and found numerous trucks without filters. There was one."

On top of that, he said, CARB regulators delayed approving some devices so that manufacturers could release them to Mountainside.

"In many ways, CARB held up the installation process," Scott said.

Scott personally went to Sacramento to point out how Mountainside had tried to comply with the new rules.

"We point blank showed them where CARB had made errors and they still fined us."

The company has so far, spent $750,000 retrofitting its older trucks with top-of-the-line devices. That amount doesn't include installation and maintenance costs the company will also have to foot.

So, $38,000 on top of all that (plus the year it took wrangling with CARB over the fine) was a bitter pill.

The other local company that was fined took an even bigger hit.

KS Industries (KSI), owned by Ken Small, was fined more than $230,000 for not complying with the new filter rule on 49 of its vehicles, according to the settlement agreement with CARB.

The amount was arrived at through "confidential settlement communications," according to CARB.

KSI declined to comment.

Others in the trucking world are already taking note of the KSI fine.

"These companies like KSI have a huge problem because it will take them years to get into compliance buying new trucks and retrofitting their older trucks," said Lee Brown, spokesman for California Construction Trucking Association in an email. "We think that there are at least 700,000 heavy-duty trucks out of compliance come the end of 2014.

"Make no mistake, KSI is just one of thousands of businesses with diesel trucks that will be, or is, in this same predicament."

The fear, of course, is that some of those companies won't be able to keep up with costs and jobs will be lost.

I mentioned earlier that all this cost isn't actually buying us better health.

I've done numerous stories on studies showing that PM2.5 isn't killing Californians. And, in fact, a growing number of studies are showing PM2.5 has zero effect on premature deaths.

But even if you believed PM2.5 was pure cyanide, CARB's own estimates show we would be very near the 2023 goal for diesel PM2.5 without these rules. That's because old diesel equipment would be phased out naturally as operators bought new stuff.

In fact, we'd be within four or five tons per day of the 2023 goal. And that was based on old estimates done prior to the economic meltdown, which all but decimated the construction industry.

Like I said, these new CARB rules are inflicting way more economic pain on Californians than we will ever reap in public health.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail lhenry@bakersfield.com

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