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Contractors fear diesel emission mandates

Sean Ryan
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Contractors want to reduce diesel emissions with public money rather than submitting to government mandates that force the issue and cripple companies.

California sparked concerns about emission requirements last year when it sought federal approval for rules setting stricter emission standards than those established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said Brian Turmail, spokesman for The Associated General Contractors of America. If California gets the OK, it would clear the way for every state to enact the same rules.

But the AGC convinced California to delay its plans until 2012, Turmail said.

“There are a number of states that already said they would follow,” he said.

Instead of waiting for California to finish its rules and risk Wisconsin adopting them, contractors and the state Department of Natural Resources are negotiating a partnership that eliminates the need for mandates, said Tom Walker, director of government affairs for the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association Inc.

“Those (California) rules are somewhere between aggressive and, well, let’s just call them highly aggressive,” he said. “In effect, you would have to buy all new equipment for the most part, and you are talking about something contractors just simply can’t afford to do.”

Donald Weaver, chairman of the AGC of America’s Highway and Transportation Division, last month asked Congress to give contractors tax credits to buy new, cleaner equipment. Weaver, vice president of Weaver-Bailey Contractors Inc., a concrete paver in El Paso, Ark., said contractors will buy new gear if they get public money, but they cannot afford to comply with mandates without government support.

“It makes more sense to buy new equipment and put your people to work than pay government taxes,” he said.

Payne & Dolan Inc., Waukesha, last year received a $60,000 grant from the Wisconsin DNR to install catalytic converters in nine pieces of equipment, said Jim Mertes, the company’s environmental manager. The grant also will reduce the company’s expense of installing new engines in other machines to lower nitrous oxide and other polluting exhaust, he said. Each new engine costs $30,000.

“We’re trying to make a good-faith effort to curb emissions,” Mertes said, “rather than have regulations imposed.”

Wisconsin only regulates construction equipment emissions on projects that create large parking lots or distribution centers, said John Melby, director of the DNR’s Bureau of Air Management. That covers only 12 to 15 projects a year, Melby said, so he is reaching out to builders to find more effective ways to get companies to upgrade equipment.

“You can get a lot done without regulations when everybody has the same goals you do,” he said. “Nobody wants their workers out there to breathe in the dirty air.”

Walker said contractors will need government money for the upgrades. The DNR gave diesel grants to contractors for the first time last year, Walker said, and the DNR and Wisconsin Department of Transportation are lining up stimulus money for more grants this year.

“We would work together to maximize funding in these programs as best we can in Wisconsin,” Walker said, “and then encourage our own members to take advantage of these things.”

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