I am very pleased to report that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee – in a rare bipartisan voice vote – voted today to continue a program aimed at cleaning up existing dirty diesel engines.
This is a positive bipartisan step. The key sponsors of this legislation, Senator Tom Carper of Delaware and George Voinovich of Ohio, deserve our praise and thanks. We hope this measure will quickly be approved by the whole Senate as well as the House during the lame-duck session.
Existing diesel engines produce noxious and lethal fumes that shorten literally thousands of lives each year. (They also spew out black carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.) Cleaning these engines up should be a national priority.
And that brings me to a less positive part of this message: what the heck is happening with diesel cleanup in California?
For many years, the California Air Resources Board has rightly been thought of as the most effective environmental agency in the world. And it has produced landmark accomplishments under both Democratic and Republican governors. (Outgoing Governor Schwarzenegger has consistently been a climate champion.)
And so it is with deep sadness that I must note that the California agency is considering a major delay in its own diesel cleanup program. The board is likely to take this issue up in mid-December.
This backpedaling has been prompted by several things, most notably the economic recession. And no one would deny that some modifications to the cleanup program could be in order.
However, the Air Resources Board is going too far and relaxing requirements too much. As my friends at the Natural Resources Defense Council put it:
This regulatory relief to equipment owners goes way too far at the expense of the breathing and health-impacted public.http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/dbailey/our_lungs_dont_read_proposed_c.html
The California agency would merely shift to costs from diesel equipment owners to the breathing public, which will pay more in medical expenses.
I know our friends in the health and environmental communities in California are very concerned. And, I should add, any retreat by the California government could be like a plague that spreads elsewhere.
Let us hope the agency re-thinks its strategy and moderates its planned rollback.