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Wisconsin steers clear of diesel debate (AUDIO)

By Sean Ryan

Builders nationwide are fighting a proposed California rule requiring reductions in diesel emissions from construction equipment.

Industry groups fear California’s rule will set a standard for other states to adopt.

But in Wisconsin, regulators are content partnering with, rather than policing, builders.

“It’s always good to stay ahead of regulations,” said Jessica Lawent, air management specialist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “The cleaner we can keep the air through voluntary methods, the less we need mandated regulations.”

The California Air Resources Board is proposing a requirement that builders reduce diesel emissions from their heavy equipment. The rules would require builders buy new equipment or retrofit old machines for cleaner emissions.

The California proposal is more stringent than the federal Clean Air Act. The act sets limits on diesel emissions from trucks and buses on highways and requires construction equipment designers and manufacturers meet clean air standards in new machines. The act does not place the onus on contractors to retrofit existing highway equipment.

According to a report Tuesday from the Associated General Contractors of America, builders already spend money to reduce emissions to levels lower than regulators expected. Association leaders and contractors called on the California board to decrease the reduction requirements for equipment and delay the rule enactment from 2012 to 2015.

LISTEN TO AUDIO FROM THE AGC MEDIA CONFERENCE CALL ON THE CALIFORNIA EMISSIONS RULE

Mike Shaw, president of Perry & Shaw Inc., a grading contractor based in El Cajon, Calif., said he spent $5.5 million replacing or retrofitting his machines. But, he said, he’s getting out of the business if California approves rules that allow for fines of up to $20,000 per day for emissions violations.

“If they go forward with this,” Shaw said, “I’ll quit doing this. I’d be a fool.”

The Clean Air Act sets the base line for regulating diesel emissions from trucks and heavy equipment. But it also has a provision that lets other states adopt any rule California approves, said Mike Kennedy, AGC chief counsel.

“They can’t adopt half of it,” he said. “They have to adopt either the entire California rules or none at all.”

DNR officials are not drafting or considering diesel emission rules, Lawent said. The Wisconsin DNR and Department of Transportation are instead offering grants to pay for new equipment or retrofits.

Wisconsin’s road builders appreciate the approach, said Pat Goss, executive director of the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association.

“I think, again, it’s a cooperative approach that allows contractors to survive and keep people employed,” he said, “but still makes significant inroads to reducing emissions.”

The state’s grant money for emission reductions comes from the federal government, Lawent said. The DNR in 2009 offered $1.5 million through the program because of an increase from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In 2010, the program will have $300,000 to give away.

“That’s to everyone’s benefit,” Lawent said. “People are more willing to cooperate when you are helping them than telling them.”

RELATED STORY: Truckers ask California to delay diesel-emission rules

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