DTF Says CARB Missed Easy Clean Air Path

The following is an open letter from Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, regarding the California Air Resources Board’s scheduled vote on the State’s spending plans for $423 million from the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust. 

Obviously, the Diesel Technology Forum has its own point-of-view on the subject, and Diesel Progress typically stays away from political discourse, but in his comments, Schaeffer makes more than a few excellent points including the fact that the draft plan (which was adopted) allocates more funds to meet administrative expenses than projects anticipated to deliver the most emission reductions.  

Schaeffer and DTF’s statement:

Last week, the California Air Resources Board had an opportunity to take a tremendous step forward for cleaner air for the communities that most need it, but unfortunately, ARB’s plan ignores the fastest, most effective path to cleaner air.

The state’s plan to spend $423 million from the Volkswagen (VW) Environmental Mitigation Trust mistakenly places a higher value on its vision for the future, instead of on its ability to attain immediate NOx reductions using technologies that are proven and ready today. The most cost-effective near-term NOx reduction technologies are not zero-emissions technologies but advanced internal combustion engine technologies. These cost-effective options are available today, not 5, 10 or more years from now, and they don’t depend on installing new infrastructure or waiting for consumer purchasing decisions to align with new technology availability.

Moreover, ARB’s draft plan is out of step with what Californians really want. A recent public opinion poll conducted among more than 2000 Californians across the state confirms that 70 percent of California voters are not willing to sacrifice what makes sense in the present energy environment entirely for the future prospect of a better one. Yet, under ARB’s draft spending plan, communities located near freight corridors (like the I-710 freeway), in congested urban areas or in the San Joaquin Valley will have to continue to wait for air quality improvement.

So, what can be done?

There is no reason that Californians can’t generate substantial of emission reduction benefits, particularly for those communities most in need, with some reallocation of the State’s funds from this program.

As it stands, ARB’s draft plan allocates the least amount of funds to the very projects anticipated to deliver the most emission reductions: 71 percent of the total emission reduction benefits in the proposed plan – 6750 of the anticipated 10,150 tons of NOx – will be derived from a single category: Internal Combustion Engine – Freight & Marine. These projects, which include tug boat and switch locomotive upgrades, will receive only 14 percent of California’s total funds. The draft plan allocates more funds to meet administrative expenses than projects anticipated to deliver the most emission reductions.

California has pushed hard to reduce emissions from diesel engines to near-zero levels, and the Board should be congratulated for these efforts. Some clean diesel options are 200 or more times more cost-effective at reducing NOx than other zero emission strategies. Our recent joint research with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) finds that the most cost-effective upgrades have the biggest health benefits: Upgrading a single switcher locomotive to the latest Tier 4 diesel technology reduces 9 tons of NOx a year, equivalent to replacing 29 older trucks or removing 8000 cars from the road for a single year all at a cost of only $15,000 per ton of NOx removed. Yet, these are often the slowest engines to be turned over, due to their longevity and lack of incentive to upgrade.

In summary: Applying this $423 million to accelerate the turnover of California’s oldest and largest engines to the newest diesel technologies would have delivered the clean air benefits Californians seek.