Canton Repository

June 17, 2005

Bill proposed to cut emissions from old diesels

By Dori Meinert
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON — Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, led a bipartisan group of senators Thursday to propose a five-year, $1 billion program to reduce harmful emissions from older diesel engines in a wide range of public and private vehicles including transit buses, garbage trucks, tractors and construction equipment.

The proposal has the backing of environmentalists as well as manufacturers including Caterpillar, which is a leader in the emissions control technology that would be used to retrofit the engines and stands to gain significantly if the bill is enacted.

New engines must meet strict new Environmental Protection Agency regulations for polluting emissions. But an estimated 11 million older diesel engines are not affected and could remain operational for decades.

“I’m concerned the full health benefits will not be realized until 2030 because these regulations only address new engines,” said Voinovich, the bill’s sponsor, who chairs the Senate’s clean air subcommittee, at a Capitol Hill press conference.

The proposed loan and grant program would help state and local governments comply with clean-air regulations faster, he said. Currently, 495 counties, including Stark County in Ohio, fail to meet new ozone or particulate matter standards. Under the proposed bill, about 70 percent of the funds would be distributed by the federal EPA, with at least half of that money going to publicly-owned fleets, such as local transit authorities.

The proposed program would provide a boost to EPA’s three existing diesel retrofit grant programs totaling about $15 million. The chairman of the full Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, James Inhofe, R-Okla., is supporting the bill, Voinovich said.

With bipartisan backing, the bill could move quickly into law if it’s attached to the energy bill pending on the Senate floor or the highway bill in House-Senate conference, Voinovich said.

Environmental Defense’s Fred Krupp said the bill “is a good example of common-sense legislation.” An analysis by the environmental advocacy group concluded that every $1 spent on the program would produce $12 in health benefits, Krupp said.

Ohio Environmental Council’s Vicki Deisner, a former respiratory therapist who suffers from asthma, applauded the bill, saying diesel exhaust is a “clear and present danger to people’s health.”

Caterpillar has spent more than $1 billion to develop emission reduction technology, but most of that effort has been focused on new engines. Recently, the firm has increased the size of its emissions solutions group from 15 to 40 people in anticipation of the increased demand for retrofitting older diesel engines. Without a financial incentive, many public and private fleet owners would hesitate to retrofit their diesel engines, Parker said. Retrofitting an older diesel bus engine could cost $8,000 to $12,000, he said. But a new bus engine would cost $25,000.

“It’s socially responsible and frankly it’s the right thing to do,” said Jim Parker, Caterpillar vice president with responsibility for the Power Systems Marketing Division. “As more of our customers bid on projects that include emissions requirements, this bill will help them to remain competitive and grow their businesses.”

The retrofitting of diesel engines currently is only about $15 million of Caterpillar’s $30 billion total annual sales. But Parker said “we see it as a significant growth opportunity” Parker said.