EPA takes first step toward nationwide diesel retrofit program

| 6/20/2006

After almost a year of disputes about funding, the Environmental Protection Agency is finally moving forward with a plan that will distribute money to states so they can start diesel retrofit and replacement programs.

On Monday, June 13, the EPA released an informational document establishing basic guidelines on how to implement diesel retrofit programs on a state or local level. The document is specifically geared toward state and local air and transportations agencies.

However, Bill Becker, executive director of the State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators and the Association of Local Air Pollution Control Officials (STAPPA/ALAPCO), the organization that is expected to set up how the program is administrated once the funds are available, said it is still unclear as to how the money will reach the truck owners. He also said the state-by-state programs would not be set up until after the funds are made available in fiscal year 2007, which begins October 2006.

“First, (the EPA needs) to see that there's money in place to fund the program,” Becker said. “It's still unclear how everything will be divvied out, but there will be, certainly, opportunities and grants to go to the states for these kind of efforts.”

Becker said he was unaware of any discussion on how the money would be split between fleets and owner-operators, and that it may still be too early in the planning phases for that detail to be determined.

Funding for the retrofit programs will come from the EPA's Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, a provision in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that was designed to reduce the number of older engines and trucks on the road.

The Energy Bill's language originally authorized the program to receive approximately $200 million in funding, and to begin in fiscal year 2006. However, delays in the federal legislature kept it from being approved by its intended start date.

The program was kept afloat by its sponsor, Sen. George Voinovich, R-OH – along with about 200 groups in the transportation, environmental and public health sectors – who got it introduced as a line item in President Bush's fiscal year 2007 budget.

The president's budget requested a reduced $49.5 million request for the program – about a fourth of its original allocation. However, the U.S. House of Representatives' appropriations committee approved the measure at an even more reduced $28 million. It has not yet been approved by the Senate.

Despite its slow start, Becker said the program is a priority for both his organization and the EPA.

“Fine-particulate diesel exhaust is one of the most significant air pollution problems that our nation faces,” Becker said. “That is why we are so strongly supportive of providing financial and other incentives to retrofit vehicles and non-road equipment with good diesel control technology. We envision that these efforts will be an integral part of state and local strategies throughout the country to clean up the air.”

– By Aaron Ladage, staff writer