Guest Editorial
Passing legislation was only the first step

George V. Voinovich
U.S. Senator

Passing the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, or DERA, as part of the 2005 Energy Bill was a major step toward improving air quality across America. DERA gained early and broad support through a truly bipartisan effort on Capitol Hill.

Rarely seen cooperation among Republicans, Democrats, industry and environmental leaders proved to be effective. The bill passed as an amendment on the Senate floor by a vote of 92 to 1 and took an unprecedented 45 days from introduction to passage by Congress.

Diesel engines are the workhorses of the American economy, whether in a truck that transports freight across the nation or in equipment needed to move the shipment once it arrives at its destination. The challenge is their harmful emissions.

On- and off-road heavy-duty diesel vehicles account for roughly one-half of the nitrogen oxide and particulate matter emissions from mobile sources nationwide.

I applaud the Environmental Protection Agency for finalizing diesel fuel and engine regulations that will reduce emissions by more than 80 percent from 2000 levels.   

While these rules will greatly improve the environment and protect public health, they only address new engines.

Thus, the full benefits will not be realized until 2030 because of the long lifetime of the 11 million existing engines.

After meeting with a variety of stakeholders, I decided that legislation was needed to create a voluntary, national program to address existing engines.

DERA establishes national and state-level grant and loan programs and authorizes $1 billion over five years - $200 million annually.

Although passing this legislation was a good first step, we need to join together and push for funding if we are truly going to have an impact.

Immediately after enactment, I started working on getting the program funded.

While support for DERA is extensive, several other diesel emissions reduction programs dealing with school buses and idle reduction had also recently been enacted.

I became convinced that the way to be successful was to bring everyone together to collectively push for one appropriation.

By design, DERA establishes a broad enough structure so that all of the other programs and emissions reductions projects can be carried out within it.

I am pleased to report that the various interests have come together.

More than 200 environmental, industry, public and labor groups, and the major state and local organizations recently sent letters to the president asking for the consolidation of all of the diesel emissions reduction programs into DERA and for $200 million in the fiscal year 2007 budget for it.

Much more needs to be done.

If we are truly going to be successful, we need people to let their representatives in Congress know that this funding is very important to their constituents.

DERA is good for the environment, good for public health and good for the economy.   

I will continue to do all that I can to make this funding a reality - but I need help making sure that other members in the House and Senate also see this as a priority.

Sen. George V. Voinovich, an Ohio Republican, began serving in the U.S. Senate in 1999. He is currently assigned to the committees on Environment and Public Works; Foreign Relations; Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; and the Select Committee on Ethics.