The California Air Resources Board ("CARB") recently enacted rules to fight air pollution from off-road diesel vehicles such as construction equipment and tractors. Emissions of nitrogen oxides (precursors of ozone) and diesel particulates (known carcinogens) were specifically targeted. CARB staff estimates that approximately 4,000 premature deaths will be avoided statewide by the year 2030 due to the off-road rules, as well as 680,000 work loss days. CARB enacted this rule in public session after several years of public input, including public hearings in which the heavy equipment industry had a chance to make their case. The final rule requires owners of fleets of off-road vehicles to modernize (on a fleet average basis) the vehicles' engines, over a period of years.
These rules are important not just for the public health impacts, but because California needs them to be in compliance with the federal Clean Air Act. Because the air in our state is so bad, CARB has to give the federal EPA a written plan, called a State Implementation Plan or SIP, that shows how we will clean up the air to federal standards. Part of the SIP requirement is that CARB show EPA how California will make progress towards our clean air goals. If California can't show we're making progress, federal highway and other funds could be pulled.
CARB relied on the pollution reductions that the off-road diesel rules will bring in showing the EPA how it will make yearly progress towards the required goal and the progress needed to show that it will ultimately meet the clean air standards on time. Now, Legislative Republicans forced a back room budget deal to cut the legs out from under CARB. This means that, as of this writing, California is violating the Clean Air Act because it cannot show that it will meet the air pollution reduction requirements that the Act demands.
CARB has been whistling past the graveyard, saying publicly that it can find enough pollution reductions elsewhere to make up the difference. But if extra reductions were so easy to find, CARB would have already found them and put them into the SIP. The truth is that air pollution reductions lost in the budget compromise will be very difficult to make up, putting California's physical and economic health in danger. As long as California's budget process allows a handful of legislators to hold the state hostage, our environmental and public health programs are at risk. It's time for reform.