Schwarzenegger seeks delay in environmental rule

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants California's air-pollution fighters to delay a new rule that requires thousands of gas stations to beef up their pump nozzles so that less fuel vapor escapes into the atmosphere when drivers fill their tanks.  The governor also asked the Legislature for a "one-year enforcement holiday" for the stations.

The new rule, scheduled to take effect Wednesday, requires the nozzles to block 98 percent of fuel vapor, up from the current regulation of 95 percent.

But the Republican governor late Friday asked Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols – an appointee of the governor — to postpone the regulation by six months or a year because "significantly more time is needed before it can be successfully enforced without significant negative effects on our state economy."

At the same time, Schwarzenegger asked legislative leaders to approve urgency legislation by the end of the month to help provide financial assistance for gas station owners and to authorize a "one-year enforcement holiday" in which "station owners shall not be shut down of fined if they have not installed these systems, so long as they have shown a good-faith effort to comply."

The legislation would supersede any action taken by the air board.

It is rare for the governor to intercede in the ARB's clean-air regulations, particularly at the 11th hour after they have been approved and are poised to take effect. Generally, the governor has been reluctant to slow down environmental regulators in the past, despite business leaders' protests.

The governor said he was not criticizing the board's earlier decision to approve the stricter vapor recovery rule, "but I am writing to suggest that enforcement flexibility is an absolute necessity to ensure agains the job and financial losses that could come from stations being shut down or fined for noncompliance."

Last year, amid the state's mounting budget crisis, Schwarzenegger refused to ask the board to delay the state Air Resources Board's plan to implement new greehouse gas emissions rules and diesel regulations that would impact state truckers. 

In 2007, however, a former chairman of the ARB complained that governor meddled with the ARB, suggesting that the governor favored political or business interests over envirnonmental quality.

Robert Sawyer, Nichols' predecessor, told Schwarzenegger in a letter that "your staff interjected itself in a manner that has compromised the independence and integrity of the board." Sawyer offered similar comments to an Assembly hearing.

The ARB was reviewing Schwarzenegger's request, board spokesman Stanley Young said on Monday.

Schwarzenegger, in his letter to Nichols, said "current economic conditions require extreme caution in implementing new regulations that call for this type of investment by small business owners right now." 

A coalition representing station owners, the state Chamber of Commerce and other business interests, said the new regulation could effect 7,000 to 8,000 gasoline stations.

The group complained that although the ARB approved vapor-recovery rules in 2000, the board did not authorize specific equipment until 2007 and 2008, leaving stations facing a short deadline.

"The reality is they can't go out and buy something until CARB tells them what they can buy. They (the stations) were left high and dry for seven years," said Tom Kise, a spokesman for the coalition.

The ARB, the state's top air-quality enforcer, approved the regulation as one of a number of clean-air rules seeking to curb fuel vapor emissions.

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