Green aid

The recent introduction of ultra-low-sulfur diesel (ULSD) fuel, stricter engine emissions rules, and government initiatives that make available money for fleets to curb emissions have spurred interest in emissions lowering projects around the nation.

The recent introduction of ultra-low-sulfur diesel (ULSD) fuel, stricter engine emissions rules, and government initiatives that make available money for fleets to curb emissions have spurred interest in emissions lowering projects around the nation. Getting money for these projects can be a little tricky, however.

“There is money available,” says Dawn Fenton, manager of Technical and Policy Programs at the Diesel Technology Forum (DTF), “[but] it takes awareness of what's available, some work and effort.” DTF is a Washington, DC-based non-profit group that promotes clean diesel technologies. Its members include engine and vehicle manufacturers, diesel fuel refiners and manufacturers of emission control devices.

There are many sources of funding for fleets that want to retrofit engines or lower emissions through other methods such as reduced idling, driver training and switching to alternative fuels.

One of the largest funding sources is the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, or CMAQ (See-Mac), which is administered by the Federal Highway Administration. Current funding levels are about $1.6 billion, but not all of the money is for diesels, so fleets must compete for funds. Some money goes to traffic signal optimization, HOV lanes and bike paths because they all contribute to lowering exhaust emissions.

Diesel operators did get a boost when SAFETEA-LU legislation ordered that retrofits get priority. However, the law does not supersede state commitments to other projects. “CMAQ gives states final authority,” says Fenton.

Another large source of funding is the Diesel Emissions Reduction Program (DERP), which provides grants to assist government agencies, school districts and others in replacing diesel engines with low-emission engines, retrofitting diesels and switching to natural gas vehicles. It's administered by EPA.

How can fleets get their share?

The best place to start may be EPA collaboratives, which are multi-state, regional organizations established to educate interested parties and coordinate government grants.

One of the most active and best known is the West Coast Collaborative, an initiative comprised of federal, state and local governments, the private sector and environmental groups committed to reducing diesel emissions along the West Coast, including California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Hawaii, Canada and Mexico (www.westcoastcollaborative.org). The group estimates that its area has approximately 3.3-million diesel-powered engines and has set a goal of lowering emissions in 1-million of them by 2010.

Another active collaborative is the Midwest Clean Diesel Initiative, encompassing Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin and 35 Tribes (www.epa.gov/midwestcleandiesel). Coordinator Julie McGee says the group has a goal of reducing emissions in about 1-million of the region's 1.5-million diesel engines by 2010. “So far, we have impacted about 300,000 engines since 2003.”

She offers the following suggestions for fleets seeking emission-reduction funds:

  • Assess your fleet behavior, especially idling;

  • Decide what you want to accomplish;

  • n Contact local financial institutions as a first step to understanding funding.

For example, she notes that while the Small Business Administration often underwrites loans for upgrade kits, they're actually administered by banks. Both McGee and Fenton suggest that interested fleets contact their region's collaborative organization, peruse the websites and learn what programs are available.

Reducing emissions in older engines may not only be a matter of good citizenship, but of legal compliance as well. The California Air Resources Board is currently working on a regulation that would require diesel truck operators to retrofit engines produced through 2006 to reduce emissions.

Officials say that in addition to helping the environment, lowering emissions can also result in fuel savings, depending on the age of a fleet's equipment, routes and engine configurations. “It boils down to whether emission reduction puts money in a fleet's pocketbook,” McGee concludes. “In many instances, it does.”

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