Bipartisan group aims for cleaner air

It's too rare when Republicans and Democrats -- much less environmental and industry groups -- work together and find common ground. But we're trying to change that and the payoff we're seeking is cleaner air and a healthier environment.
In June, a bipartisan and geographically diverse group of senators introduced legislation to establish national and state grant programs that would reduce emissions from existing diesel engines. The Diesel Emissions Reduction Act of 2005 received unprecedented and near-universal support from environmental groups, engine manufacturers and users, and state and local officials, and was hailed as one of the most important actions the United States could take to improve air quality. The Senate voted 92-1 in favor of the legislation, and Congress authorized $1 billion for the program in the recently enacted energy bill. Now lawmakers need to take the next step by appropriating the money necessary to fund the clean air initiative.
Diesel engines are the workhorse of the U.S. economy, playing a key role in transportation, agriculture, construction, mining and other industries. Virtually 100 percent of all long-haul trucks in the United States are diesel-powered, as is most heavy construction equipment.
Advances in diesel engine technology, as well as fuel and exhaust-treatment systems, will dramatically cut soot and smog-forming emissions from diesel equipment within a decade. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that by 2030 emissions from diesel trucks, buses and construction and farm equipment will be some 80 percent below 2000 levels.
EPA regulations already are in place to ensure newly manufactured diesel engines used in trucks, farm and construction equipment meet low-emissions standards beginning in 2007. But the regulations don't apply to the 11 million plus pieces of diesel equipment and vehicles currently in use.
This is no small matter, since diesel engines are extremely durable and can last for decades. A farm tractor, for example, can easily last 25 years and a backhoe 20.
Clean diesel technologies
Several states have demonstrated that clean diesel technologies, when applied to older engines, can reduce emissions significantly. Diesel "particulate" filters, for example, can reduce particle emissions the dark gray soot you often see bellowing from exhaust pipes by 80 percent to 95 percent.
California and Texas, in particular, have created voluntary incentive programs to encourage equipment owners to upgrade their fleets. The Texas Emissions Reduction Plan, instituted in 2001, expects to reduce smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions by 7,500 tons by 2007. Studies of California's Carl Moyer Clean Engine Incentive Program, now in its seventh year, indicate that for every $1 spent, Californians receive $13 in health and economic benefits.
Building on the success of these state programs, it's time to create a well-designed and equally well-funded national program to accelerate the transition to cleaner diesel technology. Congress has authorized $1 billion in federal funds over five years to help finance voluntary "retrofit" incentive programs. EPA will distribute the bulk of the funds through a competitive system that rewards the most cost-effective programs affecting the greatest number of people. Up to 30 percent of the money will be provided to states to create their own programs. The energy bill also includes incentives to spur development of even cleaner diesel technologies.
According to an Environmental Defense study, "Cleaner Air for America," a program like this will produce annual economic and health benefits in the $10.6 billion to $19.2 billion range. The EPA estimates that such a program will reduce particulate emissions by 70,000 tons.
But this is only the beginning. In some cases, state, local and private funding is available to match federal funding. So while the federal government will provide $1 billion in grants and loans, this is likely a drop in the bucket compared to the additional funds that will be leveraged from other sources for diesel retrofit.
Economic benefits
As a Republican, a Democrat, an environmentalist, and an industry representative we all agree: Cleaning up older diesel engines would be good for the economy, good for the environment and good for our health. Assuming Congress acts wisely and appropriates the full $1 billion in seed money the energy bill authorizes, this modest investment of dollars should produce a noticeable improvement in our lives.
X The writers are Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio; Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del.; Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense; and Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum. Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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