Despite the well-known health risks from diesel emissions and the economic consequences of unhealthy air, clean air projects are often stalled because they lack money. Fortunately, funding options for transportation-related clean air initiatives are available at the national, regional, and state levels. One of the key national sources of funding has been the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA), administered through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). DERA provides up to $100 million each year through 2016 for reducing emissions from existing diesel engines, and recently, EPA announced that roughly $9 million is available for agencies seeking to undergo clean diesel projects.
DERA typically funds replacement, repower, and retrofit projects for diesel vehicles and equipment to improve air quality and public health by reducing hazardous air pollutants, like particulate matter and smog-forming pollutants, among others. Through the Request for Proposals, eligible applications are required to have a partnership with a local government or metropolitan planning organization, a public or private fleet of vehicles or equipment, and other interested entities (e.g., technology providers, community groups, etc.). Because of these unique partnerships, DERA has been able to make federal dollars go even further. The DERA partnership approach attracts public and private funding that, when combined with federal funds, allow for more emissions reductions. Both partners stand to gain a great deal in the way of enhancing business operations and improving local health and are eager to participate. In the end, for each federal dollar awarded, as much as $3 from non-federal sources is added to the project, and together these funds provide up to $7 – $18 in public health benefits.
In Texas, EDF has supported Houston-Galveston Area Council (HGAC), the Port of Houston, and other partners as they applied for DERA funding. With new support, these groups were able to create an innovative loan program that accelerated the replacement of more than 200 short-haul shipping trucks, the repowering of marine tug boats with new, cleaner engine technology, and air quality improvements at the Port of Houston and surrounding neighborhoods. EDF would like to see these partners take advantage of more DERA funds to further reduce port-related air pollution and help the Port of Houston implement its Clean Air Strategy Plan. In the Dallas-Fort Worth region, the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) has actively solicited partners on its website for freight transportation projects. These types of projects are critical for reducing the growing rate of emissions coming from the transportation sector; according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, by 2040 freight trucks will be responsible for nearly one-third of the total energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide in the transportation sector. EDF encourages all potential applicants to take advantage of the current opportunity and apply for these clean air funds.
Programs like DERA have moved critical clean air projects forward that might not have happened otherwise. Unfortunately, despite widespread support for the program from industry and both parties in Congress, the current EPA budget lacks sufficient funds to continue granting DERA awards. EDF hopes Texas decision-makers will urge Congress to reinstate this important funding source to support more diesel-emissions reduction projects in Texas and across the country.