Pollution Rules on Hold in California

As small businesses struggle to weather the economic downturn, California lawmakers are scrambling to temporarily suspend state rules requiring gas station owners to install costly pollution control equipment. California Assemblyman Martin Garrick introduced a proposal Wednesday that would suspend the start date for enforcement of the rules by one year, to April 1, 2010. The move, supported by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, to suspend the gas station rules, underscores the difficulty governments face imposing aggressive environmental protection regulations during hard economic times, according to The Wall St. Journal.

Garrick, a Republican from Carlsbad, Calif., said the regulations require 11,000 California gas stations to install new fuel nozzles to cut emissions from fuel vapors, at an average cost of more than $50,000 per gas station. Without relief, independently owned stations that can’t pay for the new nozzles could be forced by the state Air Resources Board to shut down or pay fines of up to $75 a day, the report said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asked state legislative leaders in a letter Friday to pass legislation by April 30 that provides small gas-station owners a one-year “enforcement holiday” and also offers assistance to station owners who have difficulty getting financing to pay for the required equipment.

The governor sent a separate letter to Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols Friday asking her to hold off on enforcing the gas-station rules until next year. “I am not writing to argue against the value or soundness of the measure, but…to suggest that more time is needed before it can be successfully enforced without significant negative effects on our state’s economy,” Schwarzenegger wrote in his letter to Nichols.

State Senator Dave Cox, a Republican from rural Fair Oaks, Calif., introduced a bill in March that would establish the one-year rule postponement. Cox said independent gas-station owners need time to round up financing to pay for the vapor-control equipment, which can cost upwards of $80,000 for one facility.

“Most of these gas stations are owned by families or other independent gas station owners,” said Nghia Demovic, a Cox spokeswoman. “They’re stuck, they need help.”

Cox’s proposal follows a similar bill the legislature passed and the governor signed last year that allows owners of gas stations in very remote, rural areas a two-year grace period to install the vapor-control nozzles. Thousands of gas stations in rural areas of California have been hard hit by the recession but don’t qualify for the two-year exemption, Demovic said. Many mom-and-pop gas station owners have had difficulty getting bank loans to finance the installation of vapor-control equipment, the report said. A one-year extension would give them much needed time to line up such loans.

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