NHA NEWS


AFVs in U.S. May Benefit from EPA’s Proposed Cleaner Air Standards

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed tightening the nation’s ozone and particulate standards, a step which may provide a boon to the alternative fuel vehicles (AFV) industry. The new clean air standard will pressure vehicle fleets to convert from diesel fuel (one of the major sources of particulate pollution) to cleaner fuels.

Under EPA’s proposal, the new lower-ozone standard (falling from 0.12 parts per million for ozone measured over one hour to 0.8 ppm as measured over an eight-hour period) would take effect by the year 2000. The new particulate standards—which would limit fine particulates 2.5 microns in diameter and smaller—would take effect in 2002.

The EPA says the tighter air pollution standards will protect 133 million Americans from serious respiratory problems caused by dirty air, and cites 86 health studies indicting particulates as a major health threat even at today’s existing standard.

Although the EPA is behind the proposed air quality standard, the actual regulations will be determined at state, city, and local levels. The agency estimates that its proposed standards will triple the number of counties in the U.S. designated as having dirty air, from 106 counties now to at least 335. (Others have projected that the number of newly affected counties could be as high as 507.)

Opportunity Knocks for AFVs

The increase in the number of local areas drawn into EPA’s State Implementation Plan process could provide an opportunity for the AFV industry. Any pollution reductions made in suburban and rural areas newly impacted by the proposed standards will be counted as clean air progress for the entire region. Local regulators may look to these more remote regions for ozone and particulate reductions to increase compliance for their own area.

And that spells opportunity for AFV conversions. A rural city’s fleet of buses or garbage trucks or a private company’s diesel-powered delivery fleet could switch to alternative fuels and help an inner city’s overall air quality picture, says an EPA spokesman.

However, economic incentives for fleets to switch to compressed natural gas, electricity, or propane will probably have to be provided by the AFV industry. “It’s unlikely that regulators will even consider direct mandates to force private, city, or state fleets to make a switch from diesel fuel,” reports Fleets & Fuels. “The AFV industry will instead have to lobby state and national governments for economic incentives to indirectly subsidize fleet conversions.”

Such an incentive is expected to be submitted to Congress this year. A bill introduced by Senator Joe Barton (R-Texas) will offer a mix of tax credits and breaks, better depreciation rates, and sales tax relief to make conversions to natural gas more attractive.

Yet these incentives may not be enough to win fleet managers over to alternative fuels; the lack of a refueling infrastructure remains the major problem. Although some large, centrally fueled operations, such as city bus fleets, can create their own refueling infrastructure, independent truckers are predicted to reject conversions until refueling is more convenient.

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