This week's California Air Resources Board hearing on plans to reduce the carbon content of fuels will pit the regulators against the oil companies.

The Low Carbon Fuel Standard is one of the cornerstones of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's strategy to implement AB 32, the state's landmark greenhouse gas reduction law passed in 2006. The standard calls for a 10 percent reduction from 2006 levels of carbon emissions from all fuels sold and used in the state by 2020. When fully implemented, it would reduce generation of carbon dioxide by an estimated 15 million metric tons a year with the goal of fighting global warming.

The regulation is intended to give oil companies and other major fuel producers an array of options to reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels, including specially formulated low-carbon versions of gasoline and diesel fuel, and increased use of biofuels, natural gas and hydrogen blends. Air Resources Board staff estimates the switchover to these fuels will ultimately save California motorists $3 billion a year through increased efficiency.

Oil companies and refiners are opposed to adoption of the standard as written.

The Western States Petroleum Association, which represents the BP/Arco, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, Exxon-Mobil and Tesoro refineries in Los Angeles County, contends the regulation could cost California consumers $3.7 billion a year while achieving minimal reductions in greenhouse gases. The association says the air board has low-balled production costs of alternative fuels and has not adequately explained the economic impacts of the regulation on the oil industry.

There's also controversy over how carbon emissions are calculated for oil, diesel and alternative fuels.

The hearing to consider adoption of the standard is set for Thursday at Air Resources Board headquarters in Sacramento.

Input Required

Small business advocates are backing legislation that would give the state's 1 million-plus small business owners more input on regulations as they are being developed.

SB 356, by Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, would require state agencies to prepare small business impact statements with every regulation they undertake. Also, when an agency rejects a "reasonable alternative" to a regulation that has less impact on small business, it would have to give reasons.

Backers cite a federal government study from a couple of years ago showing that the cost per employee to comply with federal regulations was 45 percent higher for small businesses than for big businesses. A similar study showing the impact of state regulations on small businesses is due out this week.

"By allowing for small business input, the hope is that regulations can be tailored to be less burdensome to small business," said Scott Hauge, president of advocacy group Small Business California.

The bill now faces the committee process.

Back to Work

The state Division of Workers' Compensation wants small businesses to know they may be eligible for up to $2,500 in reimbursements from the state for every injured worker who returns to the job.

The reimbursement program was set up as part of the 2004 reforms to the workers' compensation system; its intent was to push employers to get their injured workers back to work as soon as possible. But employers haven't used it much because they don't know about it.

Under the program, employers with fewer than 50 full-time workers may be eligible for funds to accommodate injured employees who return to work. Companies can get up to $1,250 in reimbursements for workplace modifications accommodating temporarily disabled workers and $2,500 for permanently disabled workers.

The workplace modifications include equipment purchases and modified workstations. For example, an injured tile setter might require custom kneepads, while an employee with a back injury might require a chair with extra lumbar support.

For more information, log on to the division's Web site at dwc.ca.gov and click on the "Bring 'em Back" link.

More Retail Inspections

Retailers in Redondo Beach and the
City of Industry beware: State tax inspectors will likely be paying you a visit in coming weeks.

State Board of Equalization inspectors will be visiting businesses in the 90277 and 90278 ZIP codes in Redondo Beach, and the 91748 ZIP code in the City of Industry to ensure that the businesses have their sellers' permits, and are up to date in paying the sales and use taxes to the state.

The visits are part of the board's effort to close an estimated $2 billion "tax gap," in which businesses either underpay their sales and use taxes or don't pay at all.

Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached at hfine@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 227.

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