The latest data on off-road construction equipment currently in use in California indicates that the construction industry will exceed state diesel emission targets for 2010, according to the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), making the diesel retrofit regulations scheduled to go into effect next year unnecessary to meet state emissions targets after all.

“This new data raises an important question, will California Air Resources Board (CARB) let the data drive the final decision, or simply drive the data to conform to its earlier conclusions,” said Mike Kennedy, chief counsel for AGC.

Kennedy and other AGC officials, along with the presidents of two California-based construction firms, presented the case for delaying and rewriting the pending standards during an audio conference yesterday at 1:30 p.m. PST. According to AGC, the new inventory data, which was provided to the association by CARB, shows that CARB’s original 2000 estimates for the levels of NOx emissions and particulate matter from the state’s off-road diesel engines were over-estimated by close to 40%.

Instead, operators of off-road diesel equipment will be 58,400 tons below the state’s 2010 target levels for NOx and 2,480 tons below the particulate matter targets. What is more, AGC noted, they will remain below target levels for “years to come.”

“Builders and contractors won’t have to retrofit, repower or replace a single piece of functional, modern and paid-for construction equipment to meet the state’s emissions targets for years to come,” said Kennedy. “The state’s contractors, with help from the economy, are far more effective at cutting emissions than state officials anticipated.”

As a result of their findings, AGC has asked CARB to do two key things: delay the effective date for a new emissions rule until 2015 and use the emissions levels now proposed for small fleets for all fleets regardless of their size. (The current proposed regulation establishes tougher limits with earlier compliance deadlines for large and medium fleets.)

“We don’t believe it is necessary to scrap the whole rule,” said Kennedy. “The small fleet rules should be sufficient for all and should [go into effect] in 2015, when the new technology required for compliance will be available for high-horsepower engines.”

To help ensure an apples-to-apples comparison of the findings and to avoid allegations of “tinkering” with the numbers to reach another conclusion, AGC used CARB’s own model to do its analysis, according to Kennedy. “We used CARB’s model to create our growth assumptions,” he noted. “We did not tinker with the inner working of their model at all.”

One of the primary reasons for the apparent discrepancy between CARB’s projections and the new findings is the impact the recession has had on the construction industry, according to AGC. When state officials wrote their rule, they estimated that construction employment in California would grow by 8,000 jobs per year between 2006 and 2014. They also anticipated that construction valuation would increase by $10 billion between 2007 and 2009. Instead, the state has lost 330,000 construction jobs since 2006 and seen a $13 billion drop in real GDP originating from the construction industry.

While AGC applauded President Obama’s intention to invest billions of additional dollars in infrastructure improvement projects to help stimulate job growth, a proposal also unveiled yesterday, they did not expect it to change the construction equipment data in any significant way. “We are encouraged by the President’s jobs pledge,” Ken Simonson, chief economist for AGC told FleetOwner. “There are plenty of construction workers ready to get back to work. However, the dollars (if actually allocated) won’t do a lot to change things when it comes to the amount of equipment used.”

For California-based construction fleets, much depends upon the outcome of this CARB encounter. “I’m done, if CARB moves ahead,” said Mike Shaw, president of Perry & Shaw, Inc. “Given the risks and the fines for non-compliance, I’d be a fool to keep doing this.”

Fleets domiciled in other states are not beyond the reach of this issue, either, according to AGC. “If CARB does this, other states can also adopt the California rule,” said Kennedy. “We expect some 22 other states would consider following California’s lead.”

So what happens if CARB does not respond positively to the construction industry’s request? AGC is apparently prepared to take things the next step. “We will give them a reasonable time to respond, but if they don’t come back, we will have to insist on an up or down ruling,” said Kennedy, “and then anything is possible after that.”