Diesel Emissions Reduction Act Moves Forward, Needs Support

Guest Blog | December 2, 2010 | Clean Transportation, Energy Policy

This week, the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee passed S.B. 3973, the “Voinovich-Carper Diesel Emissions Reduction Act of 2010”. This is a significant step on the bill’s path to (hopefully) becoming law. The next step is for the bill to come before the full Senate.

Originally passed in 2005, the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) is designed to improve air quality (and thus public health) by replacing, upgrading and modernizing older diesel engines and equipment. DERA has been a popular program at both the state and federal levels. It is, however, set to expire in September 2011 if it is not reauthorized.

Compared with gasoline engines, diesel engines are generally more fuel efficient and have a longer life span, but without the proper technology, they produce greater and more deadly air emissions than their gasoline counterparts. Dirty diesel emissions are linked to 21,000 premature deaths, hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks, and numerous other health impacts every year in the United States.

Exposure to Diesel Pollution Causes 21,000 Premature Deaths in the U.S. Annually


New federal standards for diesel engines began in 2007, making modern diesel engines 90% cleaner than they were a decade ago. However, those standards don’t apply retroactively to the more than 11 million diesel engines manufactured before 2007. In many cases, those older engines will be in operation for 30 years or more and continue to emit harmful pollutants and impact our air quality and the public health. DERA offers a solution by funding retrofits such as pollution control devices, accelerated fleet replacement, engine rebuilds and the like.

Retrofitting diesel engines provides enormous environmental benefits, yet there are few direct economic incentives for vehicle and equipment owners to implement these retrofits. The financial incentives available through DERA support voluntary, rather than regulatory, efforts to protect human health and help states meet EPA-mandated air quality standards.

The images below illustrate the emissions of a non-retrofitted bus (top) as opposed to one that has been retrofitted (bottom):

retrofit_truckThroughout the Southeast, DERA has funded the clean up of thousands of engines. In North Carolina, for example, the Department of Public Instruction received $509,000 to retrofit or replace 127 school buses – thus ensuring that the children riding these buses breathe cleaner air every day. The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources received $750,000 to re-power and replace engines on construction equipment. Mecklenburg County, N.C. was awarded $750,000 to retrofit and upgrade construction equipment, and another $1.12 million in DERA stimulus funding to retrofit or replace 34 other diesel engines. This is especially important given Mecklenburg County’s current violation of federal health standards for ground-level ozone and these are just a few of the many examples of DERA at work in NC.  For information on how DERA has cleaned up diesel in your state, visit the Southeast Diesel Collaborative website.

These projects are helping clean up engines that would otherwise pollute our air for many years to come. Across the country, DERA is clearly making a significant impact in our communities; the National Academy of Sciences calls DERA one of the most cost effective air quality projects in the nation. According to the EPA, for every dollar spent, DERA produces $13 in health and economic benefits.

On Tuesday, even global warming skeptic Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., praised the program during a meeting of the Standing Committee on Environment and Public Works. The following quote appears in the committee’s press release:

“I am pleased that the EPW Committee was able to come together and pass common-sense environmental legislation,” Inhofe said. “The Diesel Emissions Reduction Act of 2010 and the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act will reduce emissions with real public health impacts and lower the level of lead in drinking water. Notably, they will achieve these worthy goals without sacrificing jobs or economic growth. Here, then, are models of bipartisan environmental legislation that I hope will swiftly pass through Congress and become law by year’s end.”

Nationally, DERA is supported by a broad coalition of more than 500 industry representatives, environmental and public health organizations, and state and local government associations. Two senators from the Southeast, Sen. Hagan, D-N.C., and Sen. Alexander, R-Tenn., are co-sponsors of this important bill. Given the highly politicized climate on Capitol Hill, passage could be difficult despite this broad range of support.

S.B. 3973 is slated to be heard on the Senate floor this week and it will then move on to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Supporters need to speak up. Please contact your senators and representatives and ask them to protect human health and the environment by supporting S.B. 3973, the “Voinovich-Carper Diesel Emissions Reduction Act of 2010.”

For information on funding currently available through DERA (proposals are due Jan. 13, 2011), visit the Southeast Diesel Collaborative website.

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