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Amid budget crisis, Brown wants $63M for cleaner Caltrans vehicles

Thomas Hawk/Flicker

Nestled within Gov. Jerry Brown's program-slashing budget proposal lies a $63 million request to update and replace the Caltrans car fleet with vehicles that comply with California's clean air regulations, an expenditure [PDF] that the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office thinks is imprudent.

Brown has cut state employee car usage, taxpayer-funded cell phones and official trinkets to address a $25 billion budget gap. The governor has also proposed larger changes such as eliminating California's redevelopment agencies and slashing government employee salaries, ideas that have generally been met with support from the analyst's office. 

The administration claims the Caltrans vehicle provision is necessary in order to comply with various rules set out by the Air Resources Board. But the analyst's office is skeptical of the regulations and has recommended rejecting the proposal:

In prior years, we have raised concerns about Caltrans' compliance with ARB regulations. ... We found that the cost of Caltrans' compliance with a particular ARB regulation was significantly higher than the ARB had estimated when it evaluated the costs and benefits of the regulation. ...

We continue to think that there may be options available to the Legislature to reduce or delay the costs associated with Caltrans' compliance with ARB regulations. However, we are still in the process of working with the administration to identify such potential savings. 

In its 2009-10 budget analysis series on transportation [PDF], the analyst's office noted that the Air Resources Board had originally estimated that all state agencies would have to spend $60 million over multiple years to retrofit diesel vehicles with a filter that would reduce emissions. In 2009, Caltrans estimated that this repair alone would cost the agency $240 million.

According to the same document, Caltrans and the Air Resources Board disagree about what exactly must be done to the vehicles to keep them in compliance. The board claims that retrofitting or replacing the vehicles is not necessary because the changes could be deemed technologically infeasible and therefore exempt from the regulations.

This is the third consecutive year the analyst's office has recommended the Legislature order Caltrans and the Air Resources Board to find a more cost-effective approach for meeting air quality regulations.

The governor's revised budget proposal is scheduled to be released in mid-May.



Comments are closed for this story.
heretolearn's picture
It has been my understanding that Caltrans is not funded from the General Fund. So the Legislature finding a way to reduce compliance costs for air quality would not help reduce California's budget deficit.
Charlie Peters's picture
Does corn fuel ethanol increase Big oil and Government motors carbon use and profit? Corporate welfare for the folks that have the bucks.
williamedavis's picture

It is wrong to blame the Governor for forcing Caltrans to comply with the provisions of the Air Resources Board off-road (construction equipment) and on-road (truck) heavy-duty diesel regulations.

These rules apply not only to public works agencies like Caltrans but also to the private owners of diesel equipment--all of whom will ultimately have to replace every piece of heavy-duty equipment in the state.

It would be grossly unfair to exempt public agencies from compliance while holding private fleet owners to a higher standard, both from a financial and emissions benefit standpoint.

The ARB passed amendments to these regulations in December, 2010, which would allow Caltrans (and all other diesel equipment owners) an additional year or two to begin compliance, based on the huge drop in economic activity in the state and consequent drop in emissions from diesel engines.

Caltrans could certainly refrain from spending the money this year, particularly for their off-road equipment, but not forever as suggested by the Legislative Analyst and even ARB itself.

These rules have specific emissions targets and ultimately will require the replacement of virtually all diesel engines in the state--public and privately owned--with the highest level of U. S. EPA approved engines.

In the case of off-road equipment this is Tier 4 technology which will reduce both particulate matter and NOx emissions by more than 85 percent from current technology. But there is a disconnect between the California rules and EPA's standards. Tier 4 engines will not be generally available in new construction equipment until 2013-14. It makes no sense for Caltrans (or other public or private fleet owners) to spend money today on the best available technology (Tier 3) and have to replace that equipment again by 2017 in order to meet the ARB ultimate requirements for off-road equipment. Construction equipment has a long useful lifetime--20, 30 and 40 years in most cases, so these are not casual purchases.

The on-road truck rule requires 2010 EPA approved engine technology and Caltrans, as you may have noticed, has thousands of trucks. If they are going to spend the money now, better to spend it on new, cleaner trucks, but again, there is no requirement for Caltrans to spend the money now, other than good fleet management practices--getting rid of worn-out trucks, for example.

The real story is that the ARB severely underestimated the cost of compliance with its diesel regulations and the Legislative Analysts Office has been misinformed about costs as well. ARB, when these rules were originally adopted in 2007 and 2008, estimated the cost at $4 billion for the off-road rule. The Construction Industry Air Quality Coalition (CIAQC), a not-for-profit industry information group said the cost for the total public and private construction equipment fleets were more in the range of $13 billion. Other industry observers say it will go much higher as the new engine technology plus inflation could double these CIAQC estimates.

These industry estimates are in line with Caltrans' own cost estimates--take the ARB numbers and multiply by a factor of 4--400 percent more than ARB said. ARB has been regularly accused of under-estimating compliance costs and the agency's economic analysis of rule impact is considered suspect by both the regulated community and nationally recognized economists.


Bill Davis, Executive Vice President

Southern California Contractors Association

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