California’s Air Resources Board downshifted this month by offering contractors “relief.” The regulatory board says it will delay enforcement of its emissions regulations—which were set to go into effect on March 1—for existing off-road diesel machinery until it receives a waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Construction lobbyists say the move is counterproductive to their recommendation to fully delay the rules for two more years.

“CARB’s offer to not enforce the off-road regulation—a rule that it cannot fully enforce without a waiver from the federal EPA—as ‘relief’ is disingenuous at best,” says Mike Lewis, senior vice president of the Construction Industry Air Quality Coalition, whose members include the Associated General Contractors of California, the Building Industry Association of Southern California and the Southern California Contractors Association. The move “will not save a single job, nor will it stop the loss of thousands or more jobs as contractors struggle to comply with the looming deadlines in the off-road rule.”

CARB’s decision “is as legally meaningless as it is economically damaging,” echoes Mike Kennedy, general counsel for national AGC of America. “By committing to begin enforcement as soon as the federal government allows, the board is only acknowledging legal reality, not providing relief.”

CARB Executive Officer James N. Goldstene says although the board acknowledges the state’s construction industry is suffering intensely in the current down economy, “CARB will continue to evaluate the impact of the recession on emissions from all sources and make adjustments to our regulations as needed.”

On March 11, the air-quality agency plans to hold a hearing at which stakeholders can testify on whether the off-road regulations should be modified to account for the economic recession and subsequent emission reductions. The testimony is to be included in an update to the full board at its April meeting.

In a bid to delay enforcement of the rule, construction groups have been gathering evidence to show that, in a depressed economy, fewer machines working on fewer projects in the field have produced reduced emissions. AGC met with CARB in December and provided new data it had compiled as part of an exhaustive inventory of construction equipment in use statewide. The survey found that CARB’s original 2000 estimate overstated the levels of nitrogen oxide and particulate-matter emissions from the state’s off-road diesel engines in 2009 by about 40%. Says Tom Holsman, CEO of AGC of California, “AGC’s data demonstrated the implementation of the off-road diesel regulation could be delayed for years.”