CARB tightens regs, partners with cops

Oct. 19, 2012

By Katy Grimes

SACRAMENTO — The monthly meeting of the California Air Resources Board on Thursday was nothing more than a mutual admiration society and big tax-and-spend club. After board members shared esteem for one another and CARB staff, several members of the audience jumped in to grovel before the board, instead of showing fear of the omniscient state agency.

The self-congratulatory tone at the final board meeting before the November California Cap-and-Trade Program Greenhouse Gas Allowance Auction should have been enough to make even the most hardened bureaucrat wince, but instead, the agenda did that.

Help us!

Earlier in the week, the AB 32 Implementation Group delivered a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown advocating policies to achieve greenhouse gas emission reductions to meet AB 32 goals in a manner that will protect jobs and the economy.  They said they were disappointed that CARB has not made very necessary repairs to the Cap and Trade program before the November cap-and-trade auction of allowances, and asked Brown to step in to exercise his authority under AB 32.

Part of the self-congratulatory tone from CARB board members is because they have made it right up to the November Cap and Trade auction without having to address the concerns of the public, employers, taxpayers, manufacturers and other industries, who have begged them to stop the auction, or face more business closures, downsizings, and “leakage” to other states.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office said the greenhouse gas auction of allowances is not necessary to achieve the mandates of AB 32, which is to reduce greenhouse gasses to 1990 levels by 2020. California is already showing greenhouse gas emissions reductions to 1992 levels. So many in business facing the very real prospective of having to buy expensive carbon credits just to keep doing business in the state are asking why the auction has to take place.

Windshield washer fluid, smog check program, and “Clean truck month” were on the agenda Thursday. These issues sound innocuous enough, but not in the hands of the Air Resources Board.

Windshield Washer Fluid regs

In 1990, CARB authorized changes to windshield washer fluid to lower Volatile Organic Compound emissions from the fluid. Initially, they recognized that the changes to the washer fluid would render it useless in freezing temperatures, and allowed the old formula to continue being sold in parts of the state with the colder temperatures.

But over the years since 1990, the Air Resources Board altered the exempted areas, and again lowered the washer-fluid VOC emission requirements four or five times. Ultimately, the washer fluid in the freezing temperature areas was worthless and a safety hazard.

At Thursday’s CARB meeting, after months and months of studies and staff time, CARB had to relax the washer fluid standards so that people living and working in mountainous regions of the state in freezing temperatures could use a washer fluid that actually works and won’t cause crashes.

Smog check program

CARB, together with the Bureau of Automotive Repair, is proposing to change the Smog Check program from the tailpipe emission test, to testing with a car’s onboard computer for emission levels.

Anyone who drives an older car knows the uncomfortable feeling of holding your breath during the tailpipe smog check test, hoping and praying that the car passes.

CARB wants to change the test on cars manufactured in 2000 and newer, to plug in to the car’s computers and read the engine data. They say it will take about three minutes, instead of the 20 minute tailpipe test, and mechanics and technicians can’t cheat to get a passing score for the auto owner.

Cars 1999 and older will still receive the same tailpipe test.

CARB and the Bureau of Automotive Repair also plan to increase the fine for cheating from $2,500 to $5,000 on station owners and technicians. They propose to do this with expensive new computer equipment that stations and mechanics will have to use. And there is an application process with CARB and the automotive repair bureau for the stations which want to be a part of the new program.

The more disturbing part of the presentation was that the CARB staff was very excited about all of the data that can be collected from a car’s onboard computer. It’s not just about the smog.

CARB Board member Daniel Sperling suggested that drivers should be taxed on the smog they produce. “Has there been any thought given to basic economic principles to just charge drivers for their emissions?” Sperling asked. “Economists have talked about this for decades.”

This launched CARB staff members into a discussion with board members about the “incentives” they’ve tried to impose for years to encourage people to get rid of older cars.

“I think that if we’ve had a hard time convincing the public of a carbon tax, not sure a tax is a good idea,” said CARB Board member James Balmes.

But he was interrupted by CARB Director Mary Nichols before he could finish his thought. “Hey, congratulations on getting ‘carbon tax’ back in the discussion,” she said.

Balmes pointed out that most of the poor drive older cars and a tax on emissions would unfairly hurt them.

The discussion led to how new technology would allow CARB to “track emissions” from cars through the onboard computer.  Nichols said that finding a way to monitor C02 would be a good project for a grad student.

CARB’s Clean truck month

Nichols then talked about how successful the new diesel regulations have been in forcing truck owners to replace their diesel engines with new ones at a cost of $50,000 to $60,000 each. Truck owner-operators who could not afford to do this have gone out of business.

However, the diesel regulations imposed by CARB were doctored, as I have written about extensively. Even with this information, CARB forged ahead with the program and killed a great many small businesses.

CARB’s enforcement arm

CARB has now “partnered” with law enforcement to ensure compliance. The California Highway Patrol has been ordered to pull truck drivers over to run tests on their engines to see if they are complying with CARB’s diesel regulations.

CARB calls this their “full commitment to compliance.” There was a great deal of talk at the meeting about enforcement and penalties.

Last month, enforcement activities were conducted at CHP inspection stations, border crossings, truck stops, roadside locations, rest stops and port facilities.

Additionally, there was a well-coordinated media campaign orchestrated by CARB. Board members and staff bragged about the 37 news stories done by television news. They even showed clips of a few news stories. These were not public service announcements.

So now we have the California Air Resources Board writing the news, and compliant media reporting it as if it is spontaneous.

The CARB board meeting ended after discussing a resolution to the Cap and Trade program to cap prices at the level of the price containment reserve.

Dorothy Rothrock, with the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, was the only audience member to speak out vehemently against CARB’s Cap and Trade program. “We are disappointed that CARB is moving forward without fixing the serious flaw of auctioning allowances to raise revenue in the cap and trade program,” she said. “CARB’s plan to kill manufacturing jobs is not necessary to achieve AB 32 goals. There is still time before the auction for the board to make a firm commitment to provide free allowances for all the compliance periods between now and 2020.”

The CMTA also explained on its website:

“The Emissions Market Assessment Committee met in September and identified a few more issues that CARB should resolve before the first auction.  The EMAC economists said that CARB should define what constitutes ‘resource shuffling’ — at this time electric power utilities and traders throughout the west do not know what is illegal ‘resource shuffling’ and what is normal power trading behavior.  Yet CARB’s regulation makes resource shuffling illegal and subject to penalties, also uncertain, starting in January 2013. This isn’t just an academic concern. EMAC said “uncertain liabilities associated with imports to California could discourage, and therefore raise the cost of, power imports into the state.” 

Many say that the price containment reserve will probably not protect companies from high prices, especially in the final years of the program. CMTA is concerned that California could have a market failure similar to the energy crisis of the 1970s, when prices skyrocketed and politicians stepped in to stop the market.

EMAC suggests the price containment reserve should “be strengthened and clarified before market operations commence.”

Related Articles

Caregiver bill could spark lawsuits

April 5, 2013 By Dave Roberts California business owners have plenty to worry about with the weak economy, high taxes,

Workers' Comp officials reprimanded

MAY 13, 2010 By KATY GRIMES Mention workers’ compensation reform in a crowd, and eyes immediately glaze over. It can

Berkeley finds it’s not easy imposing soda tax

The city of Berkeley, Calif., is finding it’s not so easy imposing a soda tax. Since the tax’s Jan. 1