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Thousands of Lives, Billions of Dollars Could be Saved with the Clean Construction Rule

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) should immediately adopt the first statewide standards to reduce toxic air pollution from construction equipment, according to a coalition of public health and environmental groups. Scientists and other experts testified at a public hearing here today that industry opposition has already delayed action for three years, and the state cannot afford to wait any longer in adopting a rule that would prevent an estimated 4,000 premature deaths.

Construction equipment is the second largest source of diesel pollution in California. The proposed rule would provide major pollution reductions, protect public health, and help the most polluted parts of the state -- the Los Angeles/Long Beach air basin and the San Joaquin Valley -- comply with federal air quality standards.

Despite the health benefits of cleaner equipment and the low cost of complying with the proposed standards, the construction industry is calling for further delay of the regulations. CARB estimates the cost would be less than one half of 1 percent of the $68 billion in annual road and building construction in the state or less than the maximum annual cost of $257 statewide. The agency's own analysis shows that the economic benefits in health care costs and lost productivity ($18-26 billion) would be five to eight times greater than the costs over the 20 years of implementation ($3-3.4 billion).

"CARB cannot in good faith let the construction industry roadblock a relatively inexpensive, life-saving rule that would prevent thousands of premature deaths and save our state's economy billions of dollars in health costs and lost productivity," said Kathryn Phillips, Manager of the Clean Air for Life Campaign at Environmental Defense, who testified at the CARB hearing. "Given the fact that California voters recently approved more than $37 billion dollars for infrastructure bonds that will mostly be spent on construction projects, it's ludicrous for the construction industry to claim it cannot afford to 'move dirt' without dirtying the air we breathe."

The proposed standards would require construction equipment owners to install available pollution control devices, upgrade their engines, or replace equipment with cleaner models beginning in 2010 and continuing through 2025. It would allow smaller companies more time to comply with the regulations and offer state funds to help them clean up their equipment.

"San Joaquin Valley residents are living in a state of emergency," said Liza Bolanos, Coordinator for the Central Valley Air Quality (CVAQ) Coalition. "Residents have shown their commitment by doing their part in cleaning our air through the firewood rule. There is not a single reason that would justify a multibillion dollar industry not doing their share. Our health, quality of life, and economy are hanging in the balance."

California construction equipment accounts for 20 percent of the state's diesel particulate matter pollution. Diesel particulate matter (soot) is a toxic air pollutant that has been linked to lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes and premature deaths. The young and the elderly are particularly vulnerable.

"Over ninety percent of California's population lives in areas with unhealthy air, and soot from dirty construction equipment is a big part of the problem," said Bonnie Holmes-Gen, Assistant VP of Government Relations for the American Lung Association of California. "Medical professionals and health organizations throughout the state are calling on CARB members to adopt this regulation without delay to save lives and reduce asthma attacks and other lung illnesses."

"I have seen the results of air pollution in my practice -- asthma attacks breathing problems, lung cancer, and even heart disease," added Michael Kelly, M.D., Clinical Co-chair of the San Diego Regional Asthma Coalition and Kaiser Permanente physician. "Public health should be our major concern."

A December 2006 analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that construction equipment causes tens of thousands of asthma attacks and 1,100 premature deaths in the state every year. Meanwhile, health care expenses and lower productivity from diesel pollution cost the state $9.1 billion annually.

"Polluting construction equipment is hurting people's health and the economy every single day," said Don Anair, Senior Vehicles Analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists. "The sooner the air board tells the construction industry to clean up its equipment, the better."

It is especially critical to move quickly to clean up construction and other off-road equipment because they have relatively long lifetimes. The average lifetime for some of the largest pieces of equipment, such as bulldozers, tractors, and pavers, exceeds 25 years. While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is implementing cleaner standards for brand new off-road equipment, regulations for retrofitting and upgrading existing construction equipment are needed to ensure that dirty equipment will not continue to pollute for decades.

"Emission control technologies, such as diesel particulate filters, are being installed on every new on highway diesel truck and have been successfully retrofitted on more than 50,000 existing off-road diesel engines worldwide," said Dr. Rasto Brezny, Deputy Director of the Manufacturers of Emission Controls Association. "Adoption of this regulation provides an important opportunity for the existing, off-road diesel fleet, operating in California, to benefit from the same retrofit technologies successfully applied to on-road diesel vehicles."

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