EPA, GAO Differ on 2007 Emissions

FORT LAUDERDALE— A senior official of the Environmental Protection Agency gave a mixed review to the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) report on 2007 diesel engine emissions standards during a day-long industry event examining the issue. The GAO report was requested by Congress, which asked its investigative arm to measure effects of the Oct. 2002 emissions requirements on the trucking industry

FORT LAUDERDALE— A senior official of the Environmental Protection Agency gave a mixed review to the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) report on 2007 diesel engine emissions standards during a day-long industry event examining the issue.

The GAO report was requested by Congress, which asked its investigative arm to measure effects of the Oct. 2002 emissions requirements on the trucking industry and evaluate efforts to meet the most more stringent 2007 levels. The report offered two main proposals for smoothing the industry’s move to the new engine technology needed to meet the 2007 levels: some type of economic incentives that would encourage fleets to buy the cleaner engines quickly and creation of an independent review panel to monitor progress toward commercial release of 2007-level diesels and the fuel needed to run them.

The EPA is “onboard with the concept of economic incentives,” according to Jeffrey Holmstead, EPA assistant administrator of air and radiation, who addressed an audience of fleet executives last month at a diesel emissions summit sponsored by the American Trucking Assns. and the Technology and Maintenance Council. But, he said, his agency had “one concern with the GAO report – the independent review panel.” The agency fears that such a panel might actually delay progress in finalizing development of engines that meet the 2007 levels.

Following Holmstead on a panel at the summit, John B. Stephenson, co-author of the report and GAO director of environmental issues, said his office stood by the independent panel recommendation as a way to reassure trucking “stakeholders” that reliable engines would be ready by the 2007 deadline and that fleets would not have to pre-buy large numbers of trucks in 2006 to avoid potential problems. In particular, Stephenson said the panel was needed to look at problems surrounding distribution of the ultra-low sulfur fuel needed to run the 2007 engines.

The large pre-buy of trucks before the Oct. 2002 standards took effect “showed what happens when stakeholders are not confident,” Stephenson said. “As a result (of the pre-buy), we didn’t get the all of the (emissions) reductions predicted.”

Since fleets “need to buy the new 2007 trucks to get the desired (emissions reduction) effects, we also believe incentives should be on the table,” Stephenson said.

Rep. Mac Collins (R-GA), the third panel member, also endorsed the independent panel recommendation, telling the fleet audience: “I don’t trust the EPA, and I caution you folks not to.” A member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Collins also said that Congress should “look at incentives and other areas to encourage the use of cleaner trucks or the (2007 emissions) rule won’t work.” Those incentives could take the form of extensions of bonus depreciation or investment tax credit, he added.

In response to questions from the audience, EPA’s Holmstead said there were no plans for further diesel engine standards beyond the current rules, which take full effect in 2010. “In fact, at these (2010) levels, we consider diesel to be a pro-environment technology,” he said. “Our focus will be on retrofitting older engines or incentives to replace them with new ones.”

A copy of the full GAO report, entitled “Air Pollution: EPA Could Take Additional Steps to Help Maximize the Benefits from the 2007 Diesel Emissions Standards,” is available at www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-04-313.

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