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The Republican lawmakers who held up the state budget for months showed a profound disregard for democracy, the government's fiscal health and the environment -- but for those who have followed the state party's antics over the years, that's hardly surprising. What really boggles the mind is that one of their key backroom deals came at the expense of their own constituents and big-business allies.
Regulators spent two years holding public hearings and conducting studies before adopting rules in 2007 restricting emissions from off-road diesel vehicles, particularly heavy construction equipment. The state Air Resources Board estimated that the rules, which go into effect starting next year, would avert 4,000 premature deaths by 2030 and save up to $26 billion in healthcare costs. Yet without a hearing or debate, GOP lawmakers attached a "trailer bill" to the budget that delays key retrofitting requirements, reducing by 17% the emissions savings the rules would have produced by 2014.
It isn't just that this thwarts the democratic process, runs counter to the public interest and contradicts the priorities of the governor and the majority of the Legislature. Nor is it just that people may suffer and die of asthma and cardiovascular disease as a result -- especially in the polluted Central Valley, where many GOP districts are headquartered. It's that it won't even ultimately benefit the construction industry, or any other.
California is required to meet federal Clean Air Act standards, and the off-road diesel rules were part of a comprehensive plan to bring the state into compliance by a 2014 deadline. Regulators will now have to find other ways of attaining the same pollution cuts, but air board chief Mary D. Nichols says there aren't any good options. There are two possible outcomes: Regulators will have to mandate cuts by other industries that would be far more economically damaging than the off-road diesel rules, or the state will be out of compliance in 2014 and face federal sanctions, including a cutoff of funding for transportation projects. Who will suffer if that happens? The construction industry.
It may not be too late to undo the damage. The Legislature could pass a bill, by majority vote, reinstating the former deadlines. That should be a top priority.