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On The Money: Air Pollution Fight Gets Dirty

The fight over diesel fuel is heating up. Public health advocates are battling it out with the construction industry over new rules that were supposed to start in 2012, but have now been pushed back another two years.

Critics say those new rules affecting diesel emissions are based on bad data. California's Air Resources Board now admits it overestimated the amount of diesel pollution by 340%.

"We've spent a lot of our own money and our own labor retrofitting a number of pieces of equipment, just like this crane," said Ed Puchi of MCM Construction, one of the biggest bridge builders in California.

The North Highlands firm spent nearly $3 million to comply with California's new diesel emissions standards. MCM and other construction companies maintain that bad science is hurting the entire industry – at a time when nearly half a million construction workers have lost their jobs.

From their peak in February 2006 through September 2010, California construction payrolls fell by 420,300 jobs, a decline of 44.3 %, according to California's Employment Development Department.

Meanwhile, a controversy is brewing over the methodology used by California's Air Resources Board to measure and ultimately regulate diesel emissions.

"It's called trust me science," said Skip Brown, president of Delta Construction in Sacramento.

Brown added, "And when the new report came out on the off road equipment such as this, where they 340% overestimated the pollution caused by this equipment, we found that you know we cannot trust them with the science."

The bad economy has forced Skip Brown to send home all 15 of his construction workers for most of the year. But his biggest worry is a state mandate to replace his entire inventory of diesel equipment – 18 machines in all, in order to comply with CARB's new regulations. Brown says it would cost him $5 million to comply with the new rules and he's refusing to do so because he doesn't trust the science.

In response, the Air Resources Board says the miscalculation is more about economics than science – and blames the bad numbers on the recession, which took thousands of diesel vehicles out of service, resulting in exaggerated pollution levels.

CARB issued this statement to CBS 13 regarding the claim that emission estimates were 340% too high due to faulty science:

"The 2007 estimate of emissions from construction equipment was recently cut in half due to reduced activity and fewer vehicles in the fleet during the recession. This had nothing to do with faulty science or calculations – the equipment wasn't being used or had been sold due to lack of business, thus emissions were lower by half.

The emission estimate was cut in half again because new data became available that suggested equipment was used less aggressively (lower power) than data available in 2007 had indicated. Lower power means lower emissions. It is correct that if ARB had checked fuel usage (a different way of estimating emissions) this problem could have been identified in 2007. ARB will use this cross-check in future inventories to better ensure their accuracy."

Karen Caesar, Information Officer
CA Air Resources Board – El Monte

The recession has forced Robert McClernon of Sacramento to sell seven of his dump trucks. As the president of the California Dump Truck Owners Association, McClernon wonders whether his three remaining trucks will survive under California's controversial regulations for on-road vehicles.

"And I would have to spend probably around $50 thousand dollars to upgrade (this truck), " McClernon told CBS 13. He then added, "Or $120 thousand to replace it. And I just can't afford it."

Critics in construction wonder if bad science is forcing them to spend money on new pollution controls that may not be necessary. California truckers are asking CARB for a "do-over" on diesel truck rules, following the release of a new study by Sierra Research of Sacramento. Construction industry advocates accuse CARB of over-estimating emissions by 55% for on-road diesel vehicles.

The California Air Resources Board responded with this statement.

Some scientists are openly skeptical of CARB's research, saying there is no danger from diesel.

"There is in fact no relationship between fine particulate air pollution and total mortality in the State of California," said Dr. James Enstrom, a UCLA scientist and research expert on the epidemiology of cancer. "And the risk just does not exist in California based on the available scientific evidence," Enstrom told CBS 13.

But a larger group of scientists defend CARB, saying the agency's science is sound on diesel emissions.

"They are indeed known carcinogens that have been demonstrated to produce cancer," said Dr. Kent Pinkerton, a UC Davis professor and research expert on environmental air pollutants.

That is irrefutable that there are carcinogens present within diesel exhaust emissions," Pinkerton told CBS 13.

Many public health advocates agree and contacted CBS 13 to show support for CARB.

 Op-Ed: Hazards Of Soot
 Diesel Rule Joint Statement
 Op-Ed: Diesel Rules Save Thousands Of Lives

This is not CARB's first fight over science. Two years ago, the agency published a controversial study on diesel deaths, but later had to backtrack following news reports that the lead author on the study falsified his credentials. Hien Tran, admitted to purchasing his PHD degree for $1,000 through the mail from Thornhill University, an unaccredited school, often referred to as a diploma mill. The Air Resources Board suspended Tran for sixty days, but did not fire him, according to this adverse action.

CARB later reduced the number of diesel deaths in Tran's study by 50%, citing new information.

While the construction industry continues to lose jobs, CARB's ranks have grown from 1,086 four years ago to 1,320 today, according to figures compiled by the State Controller's Office - an increase of 22%. In response, CARB says 150 positions went to the Office of Climate Change, 37 were added to Enforcement, while other divisions received the rest. CARB spokesperson Karen Caesar added, "All new positions are granted to us by the Legislature, via the Budget. The bulk of new hires for climate change were designated by the Legislature for the budget immediately following the signing of AB 32 in 2006 to help implement that law. "

But when it comes to salaries, more than 70 people at CARB making six figures, according to figures obtained by CBS 13 from the State Controller's Office.

 View CARB Employees' Salaries

The controversy surrounding CARB's new diesel emission rules have created uncertainty in the construction industry.

"Our concern is we're shooting at a moving target." said Ed Puchi of MCM Construction.
"We've spent this kind of money and we don't know whether that's going to put us in compliance or not."

If you have concerns about questionable government spending or waste, send us an e-mail to You can also follow On The Money stories in progress via Twitter at!/mikeluery

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