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Caterpillar not expected to be major polluter, official says

By JJ VELASQUEZ
Aug. 12, 2010 at 3:12 a.m.

Don Easterwood, with HOLT CAT, backs up a rubber belted tractor, called Challenger,  into position as Leon Nunn marks the exact spot to set down the monster-sized tractor in advance of the opening of the Farm & Ranch show.

For moreTo run a search of the company's environmental compliance history, visit www.epa-echo.gov/echo/.

Although Caterpillar will have to apply for an air quality permit, it will not be a major polluter, an economic development official said Thursday.

"It's nothing we anticipate being a huge impact on air quality," said Dale Fowler, president of the Victoria Economic Development Corp.

The plant will produce hydraulic excavators, a piece of digging equipment that uses an arm for heavy-duty excavation. The three components of the operations include assembly, testing and painting, said Jim Dugan, the company's spokesman.

The painting aspect will require that the facility apply for an air permit through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Fowler said talks with the state agency on securing that permit have already begun.

Jerry James, Victoria's environmental services department director, is excited to begin work with Caterpillar and invited the company to become part of the city's air quality team, he said.

"I think it's good for our community," he said. "It's good to see more of the new technology being produced in Texas."

The announcement was news to many city employees, James included. Thursday morning he sat down with Marie Lester, the city's environmental programs director, on how they plan to reach out to Caterpillar.

The excavators' engines will be transported from an engine manufacturing facility in Seguin. It was not clear Thursday afternoon what mode of transportation will be used to carry them to Victoria or if this would contribute significantly to carbon dioxide emissions in the area.

In 2002, diesel engines the company manufactured were the source of $128 million non-conformance penalties it paid the federal government for failing to meet the standards of the Clean Air Act. The Environmental Protection Agency contended Caterpillar used so-called defeat devices to bypass emissions control regulations, and a settlement was ultimately reached.

Dugan said there "was a consent decree - a legal consent decree - between several manufacturers, including us, and the Environmental Protection Agency. It's akin to a fee we paid for permission to certify levels above the standard at the time."

But the company has also received praise for its work on cleaner products.

In 2009, Caterpillar received the federal agency's Clean Air Excellence Award for introducing a tractor with an electric drive. The tractor used a diesel engine to drive an electric generator, which mitigated greenhouse gas emissions and improved fuel consumption, according to a 2009 news release.

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