California Diesel Law Based on Gross Overestimate

The San Francisco Chronicle reports today that the California Air Resources Board overestimated pollution from off-road diesel vehicles by 340 percent.

The agency had used that estimate as the basis for tighter emission regulations, adopted in 2007, that applied to bulldozers, dump trucks, forklifts, and other heavy-duty diesel machinery. Those controls halted the use of many of the 150,000 off-road diesel vehicles in the state, and the construction industry estimated their cost to the construction business at $10 billion to $12 billion, according to the Chronicle.

The air board and construction industry officials announced yesterday a proposal, to be put to a board vote in December, that would delay the implementation of the 2007 regulations until 2014 and exempt more vehicles from the rule. But some in the industry still question the candor of the board. They believe the air board hoped to delay the announcement of the new proposal—and minimize press coverage of the overestimate—until after election day in November, when California voters will decide on Proposition 23, a measure that would suspend AB32 (the state’s landmark legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions) until the state unemployment rate drops to 5.5 percent or less for a year.

The diesel pollution overestimate is hardly the only error of the air board that has come to light in recent years.

In December 2008, the board voted in favor of regulations that were based on an internal study that overestimated—by almost 100 percent—the number of premature deaths caused by particulate matter emitted by diesel engines. The board scientist who oversaw that study was discovered to have lied about having obtained a doctorate from U.C. Davis. Although air board chairwoman Mary Nichols knew of the deception, she did not share that information with the rest of board until after they voted on the regulations. Ms. Nichols, mirabile dictu, still chairs the air board.

Ron Roberts, a fifteen-year member of the air board, told the Chronicle, “I think somehow some very poor decisions have been made and politics have entered the picture too much.”

Ya think?

Re-Thinking Green, a book I co-edited a few years ago with Robert Higgs, criticized the bureaucratic approach to environmental problem-solving for what I called its three i‘s: inefficiency, ineffectiveness, and invasiveness. To that litany, this latest episode reminds us to add another i problem that plagues environmental bureaucracies: incompetence.

Carl Close is Research Fellow and Senior Editor for The Independent Institute and Assistant Editor of The Independent Review and editor of The Lighthouse, The Independent Institute’s weekly e-mail newsletter.
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