If you’re the type who enjoys hedging up the way and preventing progress, you’d be foolish to stand in the way of Gale Banks. You’ll be rudely awakened.
A few years ago, Banks sought an Executive Order (EO) approval number from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) for a new performance part he’d come up with. The reply from CARB was “No approval given because this part has to pass a test.” Banks replied, “No problem, go ahead and test it.” CARB came back saying “We don’t have a test in place.” Like so many other instances, inefficient government put a private citizen between a rock and a hard place.
Gale Banks is far from your everyday John Q. Public. Instead of wringing his hands and doing nothing, he paid a visit to Sacramento, meeting with California State Senator Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) to see what could be done to create a test appropriate for the performance part he’d created. It took a long time (and by this we mean years) but finally CARB agreed to some test parameters and Banks had the EO number he’d sought. The new test parameters also cleared the way for other firms to submit their parts to CARB for approval. This benefitted the performance parts industry as a whole.
What’s the big deal with obtaining an EO number in California? It means that you can sell your parts in California for use on pollution-controlled motor vehicles. Since other states often follow California’s lead when it comes to air pollution tests, regulations, and standards, having an EO number for California gives you a green light to sell that product in other states.
This back story brings us to Thursday, May 13, when Banks and Huff met at the Banks Engineering campus in Azusa, California for a tour and press conference. I was one of a dozen or so journalists present. David Kennedy from Diesel Power Magazine was there, but we weren’t all from the automotive industry. The San Gabriel Valley Tribune had a reporter there, as did The Mountaineer, which is the school newspaper of Mt. San Antonio College. The day’s topic: a piece of far-reaching California state legislation known as AB-32.
AB-32 is the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. It mandates that by the year 2020, we in California need to have our greenhouse gas emissions reduced to the levels of 1990. The specific gasses listed as greenhouse gasses are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluroide. Diesel exhaust contains carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
Banks began by talking about the fuel of the future: hydrogen. “At some point in the future, we’ll have engine technology that runs on hydrogen, but we’re decades from having that technology,” Banks informed. “In 1975, we were able to run a Chevy V-8 on hydrogen, so we know it can be done. Hydrogen is pretty skinny stuff. It’s tough to contain. It can go through steel. What’s more, it isn’t sitting around ready for the taking. It has to be extracted from the atmosphere, and that takes energy. We can run engines on hydrogen, but with our current technology there’s no way to do it economically.”
If hydrogen is the fuel of the future, what’s the fuel of the near future? Banks will tell you: it’s diesel. Not just traditional diesel, mind you. Banks talked about many ways through which fuel for diesel engines can be created. There’s even a process through which waste vegetable matter is modified into fuel using E.coli bacteria to help with the transformation!
Diesel engines aren’t only able to run on a variety of fuel sources. They’re also able to generate impressive horsepower and torque numbers while providing equally impressive fuel economy. Add in new technology for reduced emissions and it’s easy to see the attraction not only for big rigs and heavy equipment, but for everyday vehicles as well. Banks has a diesel VW Jetta that gets 40 mpg while doing 75 mph on the way to Yosemite National Park. Guess what? That’s more efficient than a Prius.
Senator Bob Huff commented “Growing up I was always into cars. We looked at diesel as ‘the dirty boy on the block.’ The thinking of the time was that there was no way to make a diesel run clean. Diesel has come of age.”
This brings us to AB-32. The timeline for AB-32 was set by politicians who were influenced by zealots. Banks commented “There’s political and there’s practical. I deal in the practical. The zealots don’t know what’s practical to achieve, but they have their dream. I have their dream, too, but the difference is that I understand the practical aspects of how that dream will be achieved.”
Senator Huff also talked about the political/practical juxtaposition. “Government can set the goals,” Huff said. “When the goals are set, government should turn to business to show us how to get there.”
Business can help government achieve new goals and standards the same way business has shaped and improved all our lives over the years: by ingenuity and innovation. Where there’s a way to make money, business will step in to innovate and create.
AB-32 reaches further than the automotive industry. Other businesses such as dry cleaners are also affected because of the chemicals, solvents, and processes they use.
“AB-32 couldn’t have come at a worse time,” Banks said. “We were already suffering with the economic downturn. These new regulations on top of that make it much worse. Many firms have left the state. They’ve gone to Asia. They’ve gone to Nevada. I’ve had to let over seventy employees go, and I would love to be able to hire them back. I sincerely hope they’re doing OK. These new regulations mean we have to spend extra money and time making sure we comply. That cuts into profits, and it means we can’t employ as many people. We want to comply, but the timeline these regulators are forcing on us is unreasonable. These regulators bog me down.”
The goal of Banks and Huff is not to get rid of AB-32. Rather, it is to bring about a timeline in Sacramento that reflects the speed of practicality and business instead of the wishful timeline created by politicans and zealots.
Talking about reducing diesel emissions, Huff said “Cleaning up particulates is easy. Cleaning up particulates AND reducing greenhouse gas emissions is tougher. AB-32 passed into law in 2006. Now we’re working on the implementation phase. One thing we’ve been able to do so far is get AB-32 standard relaxed for off-road vehicles (meaning heavy equipment) so that they would have time to figure out a way to comply rather than just shut down.”
What about “green jobs?” Huff cited the situation in Spain as an example. “Spain has implemented tough environmental regulations, and they hoped they’d be able to create ‘green jobs’ to fill the voids left by the traditional jobs that were eliminated. What they found was that for every one green job created, two and a half traditional jobs were lost. You can’t do that very long and move an economy in the right direction.”
In addition to talking about AB-32, Banks shared his vision for the future and how he’d help us get there. Banks envisions a “green corridor” in nearby Irwindale. The land is already purchased. What will be in the “green corridor?” All types of firms that specialize in green technology, from solar to wind to photovoltaic, to chemical and biological. “Edison is part of this, too,” Banks told us. “They’re at one end of the corridor already. We see those guys around here all the time, and we know each other. We eat lunch at the same places.”
Of course, you can’t have business innovation, new technologies, or qualified employees without education, and Banks has a vision for that, too. In fact, he’s helping fund the new Baldwin Park High School automotive program and is assisting with curriculum development. “Some of you are old enough to remember auto shop in high school,” Banks said. “Many of those programs are long gone. You can’t have new automotive technology and not have qualified technicians to keep the new vehicles running.” Banks talked about the long-lost emphasis on skilled labor and how as a society we’ve gotten too far away from being able to work with our hands.
Appropriately, Banks closed by presenting Senator Huff with a copy of Shop Class as Soulcraft, a novel by Matthew B. Crawford. Crawford quit a high-powered cubicle job and found immense satisfaction in working as a motorcycle mechanic. Having spent a few months as a welder and several years both selling and turning wrenches in a bicycle shop, I can personally vouch for the potential satisfaction in a career of skilled labor.
I took the opportunity to leave a copy of Off-Road Magazine as well as 4 Wheel Drive & Sport Utility Magazine with Tim Shaw, Senator Huff’s district coordinator. Both these magazines are chock full of businesses and individual enthusiasts who will be affected by the implementation of AB-32.
I left the press conference feeling optomistic that AB-32 can be implemented in a way that makes sense for both the environment and the economy. Not every politician in Sacramento is a zealot living in a dream world, and not every business is rolling over and quitting or leaving the Golden State. That’s great news for all of us.