Diesel Owners' Turn (p.2)

September 28, 2010

Clean air is most urgent in California because mushrooming populations ensconced on landscapes where thermal inversion commonly traps the worst pollution raised the issue there first. Ninety percent of Californians live in areas with unhealthy air. The state's size, and the scope of its severe air-quality problem, makes ARB a leader in air-quality strategies.

Environmental jurisdictions around the country (and the world) look to ARB's rulings to decide how to improve their air. The Texas Department of Environmental Quality, for example, is spending grant money and proposing rules to reduce smog-causing NOx around the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex and Houston/Galveston. New Jersey has a grant program like those in California and Texas used to reimburse private industry for some of the cost to retrofit or repower machines with cleaner-burning diesels.

If the ARB ruling survives the inevitable legal challenges and actually produces cleaner air without sparking an economic revolution, other state agencies will have a responsibility to their citizens to emulate the California rule.

ARB regulations require that diesel engines not smoke. Diesel-equipment owners will be required to perform annual smoke tests to confirm that they run clean. The California agency will also put compliance officers in the field to inspect diesel vehicles. Violators face fines and must bring their vehicles into compliance. Once a vehicle or engine is in compliance, it must remain in compliance throughout its residence in California.

Vehicles that do not pass the smoke test must either be moved out of state or retrofit with ARB-verified diesel emission control strategies. ARB works with companies to verify diesel emission control strategies that significantly reduce diesel PM, are durable, and have a mandatory warranty.

The Carl Moyer Program uses government grants to help fund replacement of polluting diesel engines. It was established in 1999 to offset the extra cost of reducing NOx emissions below the levels called for by current standards. The state has paid about $200 million in Moyer incentives to clean up more than 7,000 diesel engines.

Moyer retrofit-program administrators estimate rebuild cost based on the equipment specifications, dealers' parts estimates, and the users' utilization history. A grant is issued to pay the difference between the rebuild cost and the total cost of replacing the old smoker with a new engine. For example, if a replacement engine costs $170,000, and the rebuild-cost estimate is $50,000, the program pays $120,000 toward the repower.

"We're also taking care of all the major preventive maintenance while the machine is in here — welding up cracks and that sort of thing," says Mike Bowman, Coburn Equipment's equipment manager. The Chino, Calif., contract scraper fleet has replaced dozens of engines under the Moyer program, and Bowman considers the investment a major uptime advantage. "We're not only reducing our emissions, but we're going to have less problems with our fleet — making these tractors like new again."

Emissions-reduction plans can also include operational modifications. For example, California imposed limits on idling time for over-the-road trucks. A draconian example of regulators gone awry occurred in Texas in 2000, when the State Implementation Plan (SIP — master plan that identifies how the state will meet federal clean-air deadlines) aimed to meet EPA air standards in the smoggy Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston-Galveston areas by prohibiting use of off-road diesel equipment before noon from April to October each year.

"Construction companies could not have absorbed the financial impacts of these tactics and remained viable," says Bob Lanham, vice president with Houston-area contractor, Williams Brothers Construction.

A construction coalition led by the Texas chapter of the Associated General Contractors prevailed on the state legislature to replace the rules with the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP). The voluntary grant and rebate program to support emissions retrofits is funded from a number of sources, including a 2-percent surcharge on sale and rental of construction equipment.

Austin Bridge & Road's Clay Jones, equipment operations manager, headed up the Austin-based contractor's TERP application.

"The state, through a formula based on frequency of the equipment's use and its horsepower, grants money to companies per ton of nitrogen oxide that is removed from the environment," he says.

The $433,000 grant awarded to the contractor supported replacement of 12 pieces of equipment — six haul trucks and six off-road earthmovers.

"We were granted $242,000 just for the trucks. If we were to sell them on the market, we might get $60,000 for them," Jones said.