Air quality district sues Caltrans over heavy-equipment pollution

The California Department of Transportation could require contractors to use newer, cleaner construction equipment if the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District gets its way. The organization recently filed suit against Caltrans over the agency’s effort to reduce air pollution from construction projects.

According to the Sacramento air district, Caltrans isn’t doing enough to reduce pollution from construction equipment in a car pool lane project on Interstate 80 in Placer County. The organization claims the California Environmental Quality Act requires Caltrans to do more analysis and reduce pollution by using newer and cleaner equipment.

“Heavy-duty construction vehicles, scrapers, dozers and graders are basically the dirtiest pieces of equipment out there,” said Ron Maertz, district official for the Sacramento air group.

Although Caltrans has not officially commented on the issue, in a June report the agency answered complaints from the Sacramento air district by stating it did not know what kind of equipment would be used on the Interstate 80 project since it would not begin until 2007. By that time, new standards for non-road diesel engines could dramatically reduce pollution from equipment.

This isn’t the first time the legal battle lines have been drawn between Caltrans and the Sacramento air district. While the latest suit cites “a long history of dispute” between the two agencies over the issue, this is the third disagreement over construction vehicles in recent years. The first two disagreements were settled before suit was filed when Caltrans agreed to use new equipment with fewer smog-forming emissions. On the disputed projects, Caltrans offered contractors a contract bonus to make sure at least 20 percent of the equipment met stringent age and emission requirements.