CARB’s Rush to Rulemaking

John McLaurin
President, Pacific Merchant Shipping Association

Public health officials are projecting that new COVID-19 cases will continue to increase, and California’s chief medical advisor is expressing fears of a surge in patients by mid-April. 

The primary focus of the state is exactly where it should be: readying the state for increased rate of infection, providing care for the sick and vulnerable, preventing further viral spread, and keeping the economy moving as best as possible under the circumstances.

To facilitate these priorities, essential industries are continuing to operate, locating protective gear for employees, disinfecting the workplace regularly, and providing the goods and services that California needs.

In the midst of the crisis and the business chaos, many industry sectors have asked for relief from regulatory deadlines that are impossible to meet. Some state agencies are responding appropriately, following the Governor’s lead in making health and safety the highest priority of state government. 

Then there’s California Air Resources Board (CARB) who recently announced public deadlines for comments on three separate proposed regulation amendments impacting the marine industry – which is currently struggling to keep ports open in the midst of the crisis – and is requiring comments for all sets of regulations within the next 30 days. 

CARB’s singular focus on its rulemaking calendar as “business as usual” flies in the face of the serious crisis response that Governor Newsom has asked all Californians to accept. Out of respect for the state’s urgent priorities and the recognition that ports are integral to goods movement during the COVID-19 crisis, CARB must postpone the comment period. If they fail to do so, Governor Newsom needs to intervene to require the delay.

My members are a designated “essential service” and are unloading ships that transport food, medical supplies and the daily necessities of life. My members take pride in what they do – especially in times like these.  They are struggling, improvising, dividing and isolating work teams, all in an effort to minimize exposure to the virus, but to continue with the important task of moving needed supplies. They are no different than any other business or profession in California.

There is no need for immediate action on amendments to substantively rewrite three sets of regulations which already exist and are the most aggressive in the entire world. While marine terminals are sorting containers to handle priority items, they will now have to also attempt to work on changes to these regulations already in place. And according to our public health experts, things are going to get worse before they get better.  

We understand that California will continue to lead the world in environmental regulation and eventually update these rules, but in the near term, we must focus on the immediate tasks we have at hand, such as keeping goods flowing to consumers. 

Californians would rather have the goods movement industry spending time figuring out how to keep freight moving and resolving congestion at warehouses and marine terminals than spending time responding to CARB about future regulations. COVID-19 policies must take priority now, and we can all work on regulatory amendments when things get back to normal.

 The California Air Resources Board must align its efforts with those of Governor Newsom and revise its timeline for the new regulations. Every industry needs time to get past this crisis before considering how we address new challenges and responsibilities. We are simply asking for time to be allowed to answer the call to government, public health experts and consumers – and focus on the job at hand.

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