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Suspension of Pending Davis Rules Could Affect Many in State

Schwarzenegger delays regulations on energy standards, carcinogens and other things.

November 19, 2003|Dan Morain and Miguel Bustillo | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision to place a hold on all pending Davis administration regulations would affect restrictions on cancer-causing chemicals, energy-efficiency standards and an array of other issues, state officials and environmentalists said Tuesday.

Though aides to Schwarzenegger said they had not compiled a list of affected measures, officials in several departments nevertheless scrambled to comply with the governor's decision. Many reacted by pulling back proposed regulations.

The order, issued soon after Schwarzenegger took office Monday, calls for "the immediate return of any proposed regulation, including emergency regulations ... for further review for a period not to exceed 180 days."

"We want to go in there and really look at all of those things -- to see what impact they'll have financially," Schwarzenegger said at a news conference Tuesday.

At any time, dozens of measures are pending before the Office of Administrative Law, which drafts regulations that implement legislation and policies developed by state agencies, commissions and departments.

Since the Oct. 7 recall election, the office has written at least 80 regulations and notices affecting dozens of departments and issues, from fisheries to the authority of the California Highway Patrol.

Many of the regulations affect the environment. Jim Spagnole, spokesman for the California Environmental Protection Agency, said the state was doing a survey to learn the scope of the order.

Some officials said the order had confused them. "We have no direction on what this means. We just don't know," said Jerry Martin, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, part of Cal-EPA.

Departments ranging from the Energy Commission to the Fair Political Practices Commission and the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment decided to delay action on proposals.

Energy Commission spokeswoman Claudia Chandler said the board had decided to put off acting on new building standards aimed in part at increasing the efficiency of air conditioners. Those regulations were intended to conserve 180 megawatts of electricity at peak use times, or roughly enough electricity to power 180,000 homes.

The commission also will delay consideration of new water and energy efficiency standards for washing machines, and will continue to rely on less stringent federal regulations. Manufacturers had opposed the California-only standards.

The Office of Health Hazard Assessment, which analyzes dangers from a variety of chemicals, was preparing to publish proposed safe levels for benzene and bromoform, which are industrial chemicals listed by the state as carcinogens. That has been put on hold, said Val Siebal, deputy director.

"Setting a safe level will allow industrial users to know whether or not they have to provide a warning," Siebal said.

The executive order says the administration may issue exemptions for regulations relating to health and safety. Environmentalists said they feared that industry lobbyists would renew challenges to environmental regulations and would delay public health measures from taking effect.

Among the measures that could be affected are prohibitions on the use of diesel engines; new rules on the disposal of old computers, which contain lead and other toxic material; and restrictions on such chemicals as chromium 6 and perchlorate.

Citing pending air quality rules on diesel generators that could be delayed, Ann Notthoff, a lobbyist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said: "These regulations have been debated in the public forum for years. People should not have to wait to breathe cleaner air.

"I understand that the administration may want to take a deep breath and see what is on the book, but these are regulations affecting the public health, and they should not be delayed," Notthoff said.

Mark Murray, director of the lobby group Californians Against Waste, said he worried that the order would affect regulations being developed for trash dumps that handle construction debris. Those rules were proposed after a fire in Fresno burned for days, earlier this year, releasing toxic fumes in the Central Valley.

Murray also cited new air pollution rules affecting diesel garbage trucks. Diesel exhaust includes tiny, airborne particles known to cause respiratory problems.

"To me, this is the poster child for what's wrong with this order," Murray said. "This literally affects the air people will breathe in places like Los Angeles."

California regulators are working on standards for perchlorate, a component of rocket fuel that has tainted water supplies throughout California. The level at which perchlorate poses a danger to humans is the subject of intense debate. However, some government scientists believe it could pose a threat in extremely low doses to pregnant women and young children.

Legislation by Sen. Byron Sher (D-Stanford) requires that the state develop drinking-water standards for perchlorate this year. A lawsuit by defense contractors already has delayed the process.

Environmentalists said there also could be delays in drinking-water standards for arsenic and chromium 6 -- the contaminant made notorious by the movie "Erin Brockovich."

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