Bill could provide $1 billion for diesel engine retrofits

Several senators introduced legislation June 16 that would create a national grant and loan program designed to provide $200 million annually for five years to retrofit diesel engines.

The Associated General Contractors of America, Caterpillar, Cummins and the Diesel Technology Forum are supporting the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act of 2005. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, is the lead sponsor of the bill, which was referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works; no further congressional action has taken place.

For contractors and other equipment owners, the grant program could be an alternative to the financial strain of paying for expensive retrofits themselves. Kelley Keeler, senior director of public affairs for AGC, said DERA would allocate 65 percent of the $200 million to private contractors. The remaining 35 percent of funds would go toward retrofitting public equipment.

The process for receiving funds through DERA, which will distribute money to states and organizations, should be easier and more straightforward than some current retrofitting programs, Keeler said. “As far as the state programs go, contractors can apply directly to the state for the money – presumably they’d send applications to the state environmental agency, like what’s currently done in Texas under the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan and in California under the Carl Moyer Program,” she said.

Under the federal program, private entities cannot apply for the money directly, but the language of the bill says a nonprofit organization or institution that represents fleet owners/operators can apply. “Conceivably, an AGC chapter, or its foundation, could propose to use this money to clean up construction equipment that will be used on a high-profile construction project,” Keeler said.

Currently, retrofitting or replacing older diesel engines is voluntary. Because EPA’s emissions standards for off-road engines won’t fully take effect for at least a decade and existing equipment can last 30 years or longer, emissions from off-road diesel engines will be a source of air pollution for a number of years. Many government and public interest groups want contractors to retrofit their old fleets even though operating the engines as they are is legal.

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Bob Lanham, vice president of Texas-based Williams Brothers Construction Company, said grants are vital to small companies that want to retrofit their equipment. It would have been much harder to retrofit engines without the $12.6 million grant the company received from TERP, he said.

“It hurts a business to retire a piece of equipment early, so retrofitting is the answer or the halfway step between older and newer equipment,” he said. “We have retrofitted or re-powered 170 engines with the grant. From a business perspective, we do it for image and to be in good standing with our community, and we benefit from having a newer engine. Our hope for that is that we’ll see some fuel economy as well.”

Lanham said the process to receive the grant was lengthy and cumbersome but there are people who can assist contractors who need help.

According to EPA, the 11 million existing diesel engines account for about 60 percent of total diesel particulate matter emissions and about 30 percent of total nitrogen oxide emissions.

In addition to Texas and California, the following states have grant programs similar to the federal plan DERA would put in place: Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, New York and Washington.

To read a related article about grants for diesel engine retrofits, click the link in the column to the right.