Welcome to our January newsletter... in February!
But let's not delay anything longer than we absolutely have to.by Ranger Kidwell-Ross
Written January 30, 2006
The delay in getting out our quarterly newsletter is due to the fact I have been waiting for three California government agencies to check off on the information in our lead story. The story in question is about California's "new" portable engine permit requirement that affects the majority of sweepers in that state. Although investigation was begun in early January, we were unable to get agency confirmation until whatever date you actually received your e-newsletter notification.
Wait until you read about what the California sweeper owners -- both contractors and municipalities -- are up against. In fact, I recommend that if you haven't already, you should go read it now, prior to finishing this editorial. You'll find the saga is a doozy.
The statute's blind-siding of the California sweeper owners is so potentially devastating to contractors, especially, that it points out just how critical the need is for North American sweeper manufacturers to unite in developing an industry association.
Early on in my investigation, I told pretty much everyone I talked to that I needed to wrap up the article by my get-it-out-in-January deadline of my quarterly e-newsletter. It appeared not to be a problem, back before mid-month when most of the contacts took place. However, as I write this Editor's Perspective on the evening of January 30th, I've received only one written okay so far.
The three remaining check-backs include one from the state's top air quality agency, the California Air Resources Board (CARB), and from two of the three Air Quality Management District (AQMD) representatives that are my liaisons at their agencies. So far, only Sacramento's AQMD has done so -- many thanks to them.
Actually, I suspect the delay is because those agency contacts want to make sure what I wrote about their respective positions is accurate. In any event, I believe this story is so important to the people in sweeping -- even though it deals with only one state in the union -- that I delayed publishing our newsletter issue until I could include the story.
My investigation of California's portable engine permit requirements began with a call from a past president of the North American Power Sweeping Association. The contractor related that he'd been unable to get the straight scoop about an auxiliary engine regulation, to find out whether or not it affected his company. That should have been my first clue, when a person of his knowledge and capability was having trouble with such a seemingly routine item.
I told him I'd see what I could find out. At the time, I had no idea it would take more than a dozen hours of investigative time, spanning most of January and now into February, to learn how the regulations are being interpreted in just three of California's 35 AQMD regions.
"Why," you may ask, "is the California engine permitting statute such a big deal?" For starters, during my 15+ years of involvement with the sweeping industry I've seen that what starts in California seems to eventually spread across the country. Think kudzu.
For example, California's South Coast AQMD was the first large agency that, in recent times anyway, financed a performance and emissions test for sweepers that had to be passed in order to even sell particular models in the large part of California that South Coast oversees. Since 1999, the agency's Rule 1186 Compliance sweeper chart has been widely touted as perhaps the most solid information available regarding which sweeper makes and models can handle environmental-level pickup.
Although forward thinking at the time, with politics being what they are, at this point the designation of Rule 1186-Compliance for a sweeper is essentially meaningless. Even at the time, SCAQMD officials dropped the initial grading curve to only about 70% pickup in order to allow a number of different makes and models to pass.
Even though the test was widely portrayed as being one of PM-10 pickup capability, what most people don't know even to this day is that only 10% of the debris in the test, the paint pigment, was PM-10 (10 microns in size) or smaller. In case you don't already know why picking up the small debris is important, it's because over 50% of the EPA-targeted ‘bad stuff' is found attached to material that's no more than three hair widths in size -- even though the percentage of material that size on a typical dirty street is under 10% of the total.
Although a few mechanical broom sweepers failed the initial round of testing, since then the manufacturers have all found a way to sail through SCAQMD's pass/fail testing protocol with most any sweeper they've bothered to test. As a result, the flawed and aged Rule 1186 designation is now doing the industry more harm than it is good.
On the other hand, my belief is that most all the sweepers being manufactured currently, mechanical broom and regenerative air alike, probably are picking up and containing small-micron material better than they did just those few years ago.
Several sweeper manufacturers, recognizing that environmental sweeping is the future of the industry, have been increasingly innovative in their approach to small-micron pickup. For example, TYMCO and Elgin now both offer sweepers that can sweep without using dust suppression water. Since the average traditional street sweeper, to quote an EPA manager I spoke to on the topic awhile back, "pollutes an average of 250,000 gallons of perfectly good drinking water per year, while it dribbles and drips the now PM-10 laden liquid on the way to the dumpsite," the new waterless technology is bound to become increasingly important as time goes by.
Still, when it comes to small-micron material -- or bigger stuff for that matter -- how well does each current model on the market sweep? Industry buyers simply have no way to know without objective testing, and today we don't have much to go on except for the old South Coast testing protocol that will soon be ten years old.
Isn't it time that an objective, industry-wide sweeper test is held every year or so? That way, we all get an idea of where current sweeper technology has evolved, and no model will be out of the loop very long if the manufacturer doesn't want it to be. I think it would do sweeping a world of good for those involved in this environmental industry called power sweeping to have some kind of current benchmark for reference.
A statute generated by some agency -- probably one originating in California like the current portable engine-permitting requirement -- is going to push us in that direction, anyway. So, why not establish our own criteria? However, then the question is: "Who makes up the rules and administers the tests?"
That brings us to the second reason why the California statute's importance to sweeping transcends just those who do business in the state. The bigger picture is that it points out why the North American sweeping industry so desperately needs a manufacturers' association.
The above-referenced California regulation has actually been on the books since ______. Yet, I hadn't heard about it before I got the call in early January. Since that time I've talked to several national manufacturers' reps and so far none have been aware of the statute. Even the head of a long-time professional sweeping company in California, someone whose business could be drastically affected, had trouble finding out how the law was being interpreted in his own AQMD area.
If we had a manufacturers' association, surely they would have been involved during the rule-making process so the industry wouldn't be caught off guard like this.
I introduced the concept of such an association during the NPE show held in Nashville last January. During the show, I hosted a private meeting that included top-level members of most of the street sweeper manufacturers who were exhibiting at NPE. Those from TYMCO and Tennant, who couldn't rearrange their schedules to make the meeting, were apprised later.
Although everyone listened with polite interest at the time, the private feedback I got later was a litany of all the reasons why the manufacturers don't want to/can't get together in such a venture. In fact, the overall response was so disappointing that I didn't waste my time exploring the idea further.
However, I think the California portable engine permit regulation is something that should serve to bring razor-sharp focus back to the concept. Here's the big reason why such an association needs to happen: It's in the best interest of the industry. Those involved in the power sweeping industry deserve better than to be ruled by restrictive regulations when we haven't even had any representation during the proposal process.
AQMD agency personnel told me they mailed out notices, thousands of them, but no one knew if they'd included sweeping contractors on those lists. I do know that the majority of the people I've called who actually might be affected by the regulation -- contractors and municipalities alike -- haven't known what I was talking about.
Here's what they missed out on:
Keep in mind that the people in the dark about the regulation aren't some backpack operators blown in off the street. Rather, they include sweeping contractors who run fleets of sweepers and have been in the industry for decades, as well as the sweeping department of at least one major California city I spoke with. Even so, the biggest tragedy actually isn't how these people and their sweeping operations may be affected by this semi-draconian regulation.
An even greater tragedy is that this represents just one more regulation that we, as an industry, didn't know about before it took effect. This sort of 'taxation without representation' happens routinely, since power sweeping has no national manufacturers council to act as a central clearinghouse for such matters. If we did, the organization would have been ‘in the loop' and those in sweeping could have been told whether or not they needed to get permits by the January 1, 2006 deadline. It was on that date that the statewide-level grandfather clause that allowed sweepers older than 2003 to continue to legally operate in California was eliminated.
This milk appears spilled: The fact is, though, that similar sweeping-related environmental and other regulations are going to be enacted more and more often as we move into the future at the speed of the Internet. Today, the cloning of regulations from state-to-state happens with the speed of email and web browsers. Over time, everyone in sweeping will be affected, if they haven't been already. So, as an industry, isn't it time that we have an organization whose job it is to keep track of these kinds of emerging laws and other regulations before they take effect?
Here are some more issues that could use work: Lobbying to get separate national SIC-type codes for parking lot and street sweeping, ones with liability rates that reflect the fact that one type of sweeping is done at night on a vacant parking lot, while the other takes place during the day in traffic or on freeways.
We need U.S. industry representation in the planning group the European Union has convened to assess and develop the future of sweeping on that continent. Also needed are industry-wide, machine independent safety protocols to ensure operator safety no matter what sweeper make and model an employee operates on any particular day. The list goes on.
Although there's been little momentum for a sweeper trade association to date, maybe now's the time. There will no doubt continue to be resistance. In fact, when I discussed the California statute with one of the top executives with one sweeper manufacturer, he told me it was something that the people in sweeping didn't even need to know. "It only becomes a problem when you write about it," he told me.
I couldn't disagree more wholeheartedly. It's time that power sweeping came out of the shadows and emerged as the street-legal, leading environmental industry it deserves to be recognized as. If you agree, lobby your manufacturers. Tell them that now is the time, and that we don't need to wait until a sweeping statute that originated in California becomes law in Kansas.
Again, I apologize for not getting your newsletter to you on time. However, now that you have it to read I know you'll find lots of other great articles in this issue, ones that can help you operate your sweeping operation better right now, today. By the way, if you have comments on this editorial, or whenever you have news or ideas that might be shared with the industry, please let me know. That's the way we can all get better.
If you like what you read in this newsletter or on the website, be sure to thank the advertisers who sponsored it. Then, while you're talking to them anyway, encourage them to do everything they can to bring power sweeping into the 21st century.
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