New regulations target construction equipment

It may be the most important action taken by state pollution regulators all year–as important as the implementation of last year’s landmark greenhouse-gas legislation. The vote carries a potential price tag being measured in billions, and yet the state Air Resources Board’s upcoming vote has gone virtually unnoticed by all but industry insiders.

California’s air pollution regulators are poised to vote on new rules to curb emissions from some 180,000 unregistered diesel machines–the earth movers, backhoes, tractors, scrapers and other heavy equipment used to build highways, dams, housing developments, skyscrapers and other big projects, public and private.

The state ARB has scheduled a final vote on May 24 on the landmark rules, which would be phased in through 2020. The regulations, long sought by environmentalists and under discussion for seven years, target soot from diesel engines–called particulate matter, or “PM”–as well as nitrous oxide, or N0x, a trigger ingredient of smog. After years of focusing on PM, the anti-N0x provision was added to the proposed regulations in December–an 11th-hour move that construction-industry critics of the new rules say makes timely compliance all but impossible.

The board’s actions could have regional, if not national, implications. The ARB is the premier air-quality enforcer in the nation–including even the federal government–and its actions often serve as guide for regulators in the industrial Northeast.

The costs of modifying engines, buying new equipment and retrofitting existing equipment are enormous. On major equipment that costs $500,000 or more each–not an unusual price tag for a huge grader or backhoe–engine retrofits can cost $50,000 alone. “There is no Toyota Prius version of the backhoe or bulldozer available on the market today.

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