A program worth saving

How broad and bi-partisan? President William J. Clinton signed the first regulation to clean up diesel trucks and buses in 2001, and President George W. Bush signed the next regulation to clean up diesel construction and farm equipment in 2004. 
 
In 2005, Congress followed up by passing the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA), a five-year effort to accelerate the clean-up of the millions of dirty diesel engines still in use. DERA sought to improve America’s air quality by modernizing older diesel engines and equipment through engine replacements and retrofits.
 
Just a few months ago, DERA was overwhelmingly reauthorized for another five years during a Congressional lame duck session that was marked by high-volume, partisan rancor on almost every other issue.
 
But now the program is on the chopping block. In February, the President’s budget included no money for DERA, and Congress will soon debate what to do. We think Congress should continue to fund DERA, and here’s why.
 
Every dollar invested in diesel retrofits and replacements yields at least $13 in health benefits—fewer asthma emergencies, fewer lost work days, and healthier communities. Plus, DERA has provided federal funds in a competitive process that encourages state, local, or private funding matches. By doing so, DERA has been able to leverage roughly three dollars in state, local, or private funding for every federal dollar. It’s hard to find a better investment in public health.
 
DERA provides the seed funding for thousands of fleet owners, farmers, and other diesel users to buy the new engines, retrofits, and technologies. In turn, this is unlocking the potential of America’s engine makers and equipment innovators. U.S. engine companies are producing the most durable, efficient, and cleanest diesel engines in the world and other clean diesel manufacturers are making the catalysts and filters that can make older diesel engines much, much cleaner during the years of service that they have left.
 
As a result, these companies are helping to create thousands of clean energy jobs in making, installing and servicing new emissions control devices, new engines and other fuel saving equipment.
 
It’s true that times are tough and only projects that really deserve or show strong merit for doing the most public good should receive funding, but few things are more important than air quality, especially in some of the most chronically polluted areas of the country.
 
We understand that, in this very serious budget climate, tough choices have to be made. But the issue of clean air shouldn’t be a partisan issue, and the diesel clean-up issue has never been one. Last December, Democrats and Republicans came together to overwhelmingly reauthorize DERA for another five years. They recognized that it was one of the most cost-effective programs in government and that there was no such thing as Democrat air or Republican air.
 
Now, as the recession keeps diesel engines on the road and jobsite longer and longer, it’s even more important to help fund programs to retrofit and clean up those older engines. If ever a program made sense and had the support of environmental, labor, public health and industry groups, this is the one.
 
Since 2005, DERA has been a smart budget choice and a successful program to clean up diesel school buses, trucks, construction equipment and farm engines across the nation. With 11 million dirty diesel engines still on our roads, construction sites, and farms, Congress needs to continue funding DERA.
 
Richard Kassel directs the Clean Fuels and Vehicles Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Allen Schaeffer is the executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum.