Gas stations face deadline for new gas | SierraSun.com

Gas stations face deadline for new gas

NOAKI SCHWARTZ
Associated Press Writers

SACRAMENTO ” Service station owners throughout California face a Wednesday deadline to install gasoline pumps that reduce air pollution, a costly development that prompted a trade association to warn that thousands of stations might close.

Those fears now appear overblown. Thousands of gas stations have already complied, and those that have not are expected to be given additional time.

Lawmakers also are considering emergency legislation that would provide grant money to help ease the financial pain of a retrofit that can cost $11,000 per pump.

“I think there are some people who probably waited because it was always difficult to do the financing and never expected the economic calamity that we have now,” said state Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, D-Redwood City. “We don’t want these stations to close simply because they can’t get credit in these tough times.”

His emergency bill would make $8 million in grants available for the upgrades and would take effect immediately if it gets the two-thirds support in the Legislature.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has written to lawmakers urging them to pass a bill that would help financially strapped station owners defray the cost. State Sen. Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, is pushing legislation that would postpone implementation for a year, but it won’t be heard until after the deadline passes.

Station owners have known since 2000 that they would be required to install new pumps, nozzles, hoses and other vapor-capturing devices. The requirement is expected to cut smog-causing emissions by 40 percent.

Some states have followed California by adopting part of the requirement, the nation’s most stringent gas-pump regulation.

Nearly 40 percent of California’s estimated 11,000 gas stations have been fitted with the new systems, leaving the majority to face potential fines for missing the April 1 deadline.

Tom Kise, spokesman for a coalition of gas stations, had warned that thousands of stations would close if owners were not given more time to secure funding.

“It’s not the Chevrons of the world, or BP or ARCO,” said Kise, representing the 150-member Responsible Clean Air Coalition. “These are mom-and-pop stations.”

The California Air Resources Board, which is in charge of implementing the regulations, has deferred enforcement to local air districts throughout the state. Spokesman Leo Kay said those districts have pledged to act with discretion to avoid disruptions to station owners and motorists.

State and local air pollution officials said most stations have the needed permits and eventually will be operating with the new systems. Air Resources Board spokesman Dimitri Stanich said only those owners who fail to show a good faith effort to comply face fines and possible closure.

California’s 35 local air districts have been working with station owners over the last two years to avoid fines as the deadline approached, said Mat Ehrhardt, vice president of the California Air Pollution Control Officers Association.

“Station owners heard from trade associations they were going to be shut down. But when they came and sat down with their local districts, they were pleasantly surprised,” said Ehrhardt, executive director of the Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District. “There wasn’t a station in my district that was gong to be shut down.”

David Berri, who owns seven gas stations in Southern California, is among those who said he would take advantage of a state grant program if the Legislature approves one.

He said his credit line had dried up and that he could not afford the new systems. He was worried about potential fines that could reach $10,500 a month for failing to comply.

“This is very stressful on me and my family,” he said. “Getting money has been the whole issue.”

Competitors who invested tens of thousands of dollars to meet the deadline have little sympathy.

“There was a ton of time to do this at a time when loans were easier to get, margins were better and business was really good,” said station owner Sunny Goyal, who thinks many owners didn’t take the new rule seriously.

Goyal spent about $75,000 per station on the estimated 50 facilities throughout the state that he operates under the Shell and Chevron brands.