Emission granted?
Energy bill amendment includes innovative compliance incentives

By Aaron Ladage
Staff Writer

If your old rig coughs up more crud than a guy with a three-pack-a-day habit, it might be time to look at getting a new truck. And while that’s easier said than done, help might be coming in the way of a little-known amendment in the federal energy bill.

Under the amendment, owner-operators and fleet owners could receive economic incentives to replace their older trucks, or retrofit them to meet current emissions standards. The money would originate from a two-year, $100 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which would then be divvied up among states and municipalities to give to truckers.

The House approved the amendment, which was sponsored by Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, D-CA, on April 21. If the Energy Policy Act of 2005 – which was out of committee and awaiting a vote from the full Senate as of press time – is approved, the grant money will be available beginning in the 2006 federal fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, 2005.

“Close to 88,000 of these older trucks operate in the United States. Over 30,000 of those trucks are 10 years or older,” said Millender-McDonald in a letter to the House. “These older heavy-duty trucks are the leading contributors to pollutants such as ozone and particulate pollution and are the highest polluters among on-road transportation emission sources.”

The amendment itself doesn’t specify how states and municipalities should distribute the funds or how much money each trucker would receive; it only requires the EPA to set up the grant system. John Young, legislative director for Millender-McDonald, said leaving the amendment open to interpretation allows states and municipalities to develop their own programs.

“The states, and also local governments or local entities, would be able to administer this,” Young said. “They would be applying for the grants, and they would be able to administer programs locally.”

However, Young said Millender-McDonald’s own district is already testing a similar program that has been incredibly effective in removing older, polluting trucks from the state’s roadways. The Gateway Cities Council of Governments, a consortium of 27 cities in southeast Los Angeles County, has a Clean Air Program that gives incentives to truckers driving older vehicles.

In the Southern California program, the trade-in vehicle has to be a 1986 model or older, and must be traded for a 1999 or newer truck. Allynn Howe, president of Government Relations Consultants, a lobbying group that represents Gateway, said the incentives average $20,000 to $25,000 per truck, but could go higher. To date, more than 350 trucks have been retrofitted or traded in for newer, cleaner-burning rigs.

“The large fleet companies – over-the-road fleet carriers – will tend to modernize their fleet on a regular basis, and so they’re not really the problem,” Howe said. “The problem is the little guys. This program would significantly increase the incentive for them to come in and dump their old trucks and replace them with new ones.”

Howe stressed that the Los Angeles-area program is designed to take polluting trucks off the road for good – not to redistribute them in other countries, where the emissions problem would just continue farther from home.

“They put a half-inch drill through the engine block so they can’t be reused, and I believe they melt them down then,” Howe said. “They can’t be sold to Mexico; they can’t be sold to Iraq – which is something that has strongly been advocated for. There are people who would love to do that.”

In addition to federal EPA funding, California’s program receives money from the California Air Resources Board, the Port of Long Beach, the Port of Los Angeles and the Mobile Source Emission Reduction Committee of the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

“There are only a few of these programs nationwide,” Young said. “We’re a little biased and would say that what we’re doing in southern California is the way to go, but other states and localities might see other ways to do it to address their needs.”

Young said the advantage of California’s program is that owner-operators and large companies have an equal opportunity to get the grant money, because fleet size is not a determining factor in doling out the money. He believes this level playing field will be important on the national level, too.

“We have a lot of need for addressing owner-operator trucks in our particular region, because there’s a lot of them,” Young said. “Other states – Ohio, Texas – they might be a little bit different. They might have more fleets and larger fleets. So, there’s some flexibility there at this point.”

OOIDA’s DC office has a continued dialog with Millender-McDonald and her staff regarding potential benefits to small business truck drivers.