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Diesel Emissions Reduction Act reauthorization passed by Senate Committee

December 02, 2010

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor, and Patrick Burnson, Executive Editor

The reauthorization of a bill focused on diesel emissions reduction was passed by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works earlier this week.

The bipartisan bill, S. 3973, the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA), is authored by Senators George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) and is a five-year reauthorization of 2005 legislation they introduced, which established a voluntary national and state-level grant and loan program to reduce diesel emissions, and was included in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

When this bill was introduced last month, Senator Voinovich said the “DERA program is one of the best actions our government has taken to improve air quality and help states and localities meet air quality standards.” And Senator Carper added that by cleaning up old diesel engines, DERA saves lives and creates a demand for clean diesel technology, which can lead to job creation.

The primary objective of DERA is to establish voluntary national and state-level grant and loan programs to reduce diesel emissions by upgrading and modernizing older diesel engines and equipment, according to officials at the Diesel Technology Forum. They added that DERA funds since 2005 have been used to clean up the nation’s older, dirty diesels by retrofitting or replacing them with new technologies that significantly reduce the soot and emissions from an estimated 11 million of the nation’s oldest diesel trucks, buses, and equipment.

And since DERA was initially authorized in 2005, the Diesel Technology Forum said that the federal government has invested nearly a half billion dollars to improve America’s air quality by upgrading and modernizing older diesel engines and equipment through engine replacements and retrofits that would include new pollution-cutting filters and catalysts.

A leading green logistics expert told LM that passage of DERA is the right thing to do on multiple levels.

“Upgrading diesel engines is a no brainer as it is relatively inexpensive and today’s hi-tech diesel engines simply run cleaner than older diesel engines,” said Brittain Ladd, a supply chain consultant and lecturer on green supply chain strategies for a consulting firm. “What’s interesting is that as these discussions are taking place, more countries are showing interest in replacing the use of diesel engines with engines that run on natural gas. I don’t believe there is a ‘one-size, fits all’ approach on this topic but I do foresee a multi-phase approach whereby the focus transitions from upgrading diesel engines to actually replacing diesel powered vehicles with vehicles powered by natural gas.”

DERA reauthorization is also endorsed by the American Association of Port Authorities, whose President Kurt Nagle wrote in a letter to Congress that over the past five years DERA has been invaluable in reducing emissions from older diesel engines, especially those in use at America’s ports along the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf, and Great Lakes coasts.

AAPA spokesman Aaron Ellis said in an interview that if the lame duck Congress does not reauthorize the Act, it could mean that ports will have to shoulder the expense in the future.

“And when you squeeze the supply chain at one end, it means more cost at the other,” said AAPA Ellis. He added that the current DERA funding scheme permits ports to concentrate on job creation and infrastructure.”

“Which, in turn,” said Ellis, “serves to drive another national objective: exports.”

Key to the success of seaports are the diesel engines that power trucks, rail, cargo handling equipment and harbor craft, such as tugs, towboats and ferries. 

“America’s public port agencies, which strive to both meet the nation’s commerce needs and be good stewards of the coastal environment, have used DERA grants to reduce emissions in some of the country’s most densely populated areas,” stated Nagle in his letter.

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