Gambling With Taxpayer Dollars

In closed-door negotiations, California Republicans are demanding a delay in implementation of California's off-road diesel rules in return for their agreement to a new state budget.  This demand carries a hidden danger that could lead to billions of dollars of lost federal money for California.  This is because of the federal "conformity" rules under the Clean Air Act (CAA).  Because portions of California are in "non-attainment" under the CAA, California has to give the federal EPA a State Implementation Plan (SIP) that tells the EPA how and when California will meet federal clean air standards.  Congress established ultimate deadlines for the various air pollutants of concern, and, just as important for the California off-road rules, Congress set interim deadlines along the way at three year intervals.  These interim deadlines prevent states from procrastinating on pollution reductions until near the ultimate deadline.

The California off-road rules were designed with exactly this in mind.  If these rules are delayed, it is likely that California will not be able to make the required showing of progress, or the showing that California will actually meet  the federal clean air standards.  And, if it cannot, the penalties can be severe:  loss of all federal transportation funding and possible imposition by EPA of a federal implementation plan that would take air quality rules in California out of the State's hands. 

The real issue here is that experts at the California Air Resources Board and other governmental agencies made the calculations about what is needed to reach clean air standards to prevent the harsh penalties under the CAA.  Not listening to the scientists and experts is not how these plans should be developed.  We are all too familiar with this approach from the Bush administration.     

It's hard to believe that the California Republicans would risk so much for one of their constituencies.  It's like taking billions of dollars -- dollars that will create jobs in California -- to Vegas for a gambling spree.  It's no wonder that they feel they need to do this in private, behind closed doors, outside the normal legislative process.