Limits on emissions rules offered
State wants older, less efficient diesel equipment replaced
By TIM HEARDEN
ANDERSON, Calif. -- A state air-quality official shocked the audience at the Sierra Cascade Logging Conference here by pledging that new agriculture-specific diesel regulations to be written this year will apply only in the San Joaquin Valley.
California Air Resources Board pollution specialist Timothy Hartigan added that even producers there won't notice much difference because they'll be given credit for steps they've already taken to reduce emissions.
"We tend to look at it region by region," Hartigan said on Feb. 9. He explained that diesel emissions from tractors and other ag machinery represent about 1 percent of the Bay Area's pollution while making up 15 percent of emissions in the San Joaquin Valley.
His announcement comes as farmers, ranchers and timber producers around the Golden State have been both dreading and preparing for the state to prod them to replace older, less efficient diesel-powered equipment.
The ARB plans to begin workshops on the In-Use Off-Road Mobile Agricultural Equipment Regulation next month, and the board is slated to vote on a final rule by December, Hartigan said.
The promise that the new rule will apply only within the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District's boundaries was "a bombshell," said Theodore Hadzi-Antich, attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation.
But Hadzi-Antich cautioned the roughly 75 people who crammed into a fairgrounds facility not to take Hartigan's word alone for it. He noted that nothing has been put in writing, and he urged farmers and ranchers throughout California to stay engaged throughout the decision-making process.
"I'm sure these are fine people, but I'll believe it when I see it," Hadzi-Antich said in an interview. "It was a bombshell, but I've just heard too many promises from our government."
The regs for ag-specific equipment represent the third round of diesel emissions controls the air board has enacted since approving its 2007 state implementation plan under the Clean Air Act.
Rules for trucks and buses are already in place, and restrictions on non-agricultural off-road equipment are set to phase in beginning next year pending a required waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which Hadzi-Antich said is typically a formality.
The ag rule's goal is to accelerate fleet turnover to equipment with engines meeting cleaner oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter standards, according to the state ARB's website.
Hartigan said many producers have already taken advantage of local, state and federal programs that provide economic incentives for upgrading. Those include the Carl Moyer Memorial Air Quality Standards Attainment Program and funding through the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service.
"The industries just need to keep doing what they're doing," he said.
Hartigan did caution attendees that agricultural businesses could be required to make further changes in the next state implementation plan, due to be enacted in 2015 and take full effect in 2032. The state is trying to reduce pollutants to 1990 levels.
He and ARB air resources engineer Lynsay Carmichael heard complaints from timber producers and others in the audience that the emissions rules for trucks and construction equipment put small operators at a disadvantage, forcing some out of the state or out of business. They feared the same could happen under the new ag-equipment rules.
However, other producers have been getting ready. At last week's Colusa Farm Show, some heavy-equipment vendors said their sales have been brisk in the last two years as growers move to meet the new standards.
"As far as tractors go, we sell them as soon as we've been getting them in," said Matt Dixon, corporate sales manager for the Yuba City, Calif.-based Valley Truck and Tractor.
In-Use Off-Road Mobile Agricultural Equipment Regulation: www.arb.ca.gov/ag/agtractor/agtractor.htm
Pacific Legal Foundation: www.pacificlegal.org