California has succeeded in environmental protection where few other states dared go by clamping down on pollution while building a mighty economy over the past 50 years.
In choreographed synchronicity, air quality improved, jobs multiplied and technology flourished. California not only allowed people to breathe better, but it also enabled innovations such as hybrid cars, low-emitting power plants, and clean paints and solvents. The brilliance of California's environmental leadership is that regulation has created new markets, which in turn created jobs and saved lives.
So it is profoundly disappointing that the state Air Resources Board is poised to retreat from this formula and roll back health-protective pollution controls that target the most conspicuous pollutant -- sooty emissions from big diesel-powered trucks, buses, bulldozers, backhoes and other equipment.
On Dec. 17, the air board will consider repealing its own rules, forgoing diesel pollution reductions that would benefit the breathing public. Specifically, the board proposes to eliminate all requirements for existing diesel-powered construction fleets to reduce their particulate matter footprint; delay compliance so most vehicle fleets do nothing until 2017; and push back deep cuts in smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions five years until 2022.
Even worse, the proposal would eliminate requirements to retrofit diesel-powered equipment with state-of-the-art filters thatare cost-effective, reliable and can immediately make old equipment nearly clean as new by knocking down diesel soot almost 90 percent. That proposal alone represents not only a threat to public health, but a mortal danger to a fast-growing clean technology sector that supports more than 4,000 green jobs and counting in California alone. That provision means that about 250,000 diesel engines that could be cleaned up now will instead be left unregulated until they are retired from service, adding about 35,000 tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxide annually, according to estimates by the air board.
Why would the air board do such a thing? The agency says explicitly that the change is needed to help alleviate hardship on the recession-ravaged construction industry. The air board staff says it will make up the increases in emissions in the short term with gains over the long term.
But that's small consolation to Californians who breathe the most polluted air in the nation. By the air board's own estimates, about 9,200 Californians die from air pollution annually, and diesel soot accounts for most of the risk. Much of the burden falls on low-income families living near major highways or ports, warehouses or railways. Preliminary estimates show that the rule changes could potentially result in up to 30 percent more diesel pollution in the Los Angeles basin.
Meanwhile, the proposed diesel rule amendments will have a chilling effect on investors, including banks and venture capitalists. Investors have poured more than $2 billion nationwide into clean diesel technology, but they will have little incentive to continue under the proposed rule changes. The result: a lost opportunity for more than 10,000 additional jobs in the diesel filter retrofit industry. It hardly seems fair politics or prudent public policy to change the rules in midstream to benefit one industry while ruining another.
Green jobs and protecting the planet from climate change were constant themes for both the outgoing Republican governor and the incoming Democratic governor in California during the recently concluded election campaign. California would do well to heed those calls and adhere to its history of smart regulations that grow jobs as it weighs amendments to the diesel pollution regulation next week.
JOE KUBSH is the executive director of the Manufacturers of Emission Controls Association. NIDIA BAUTISTA is policy director of the Coalition for Clean Air. They wrote this article for the Mercury News.