Proposal could give contracts to companies with cleaner equipment

Texas counties and municipalities may soon be obligated to award contracts to construction companies that use cleaner diesel equipment, even if they aren’t the lowest bidder.

Government leaders are working with the Texas Clean Air Working Group to devise a plan that will encourage more construction companies to participate in the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan, a voluntary program that provides $150 million annually in grants to help replace old diesel off-road equipment.

In order for the latest proposal to work, counties and cities would have to require cleaner equipment as a criterion for winning contracts. Such legislation would be one of the most aggressive steps to curb diesel emissions thus far.

According to the Associated General Contractors of Texas, the effort could close down small and minority-owned companies that can’t afford to replace old equipment, even with TERP assistance. Art Daniel, president of the Austin AGC, said the proposal is called an incentive effort, but, if approved, it will likely become a mandate to participate in a voluntary program.

A local taxpayer group, Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy, is also against the proposal because it could drive up the costs of construction projects and therefore increase local taxes.

Joe Novoa, chairman of the Greater Dallas Chamber’s air quality, water and environment committee, says the plan should not be a mandate that forces contractors into compliance.

The TERP program, which began in 2001, was poorly funded until this year and has received little enthusiasm from the Texas construction industry. It provides $150 million in grants each year to help companies replace diesel construction equipment and retrofit old engines with pollution controls. The program does not cover the cost to replace equipment, but pays the difference in price for a buyer to purchase a piece of equipment with cleaner emission standard rather than one that meets the current requirements. For many contractors, it has just been cheaper to keep their old equipment.