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House Passes DERA - $500M Diesel Retrofit Program Headed to President's Desk

Rich Kassel

Posted December 21, 2010 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment, The Media and the Environment, U.S. Law and Policy

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Just a few moments ago, the House of Representatives passed a bill that will help accelerate the clean-up of America’s millions of dirty diesels.  This bill, the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act of 2010 (S. 3973/ H.R. 6482) will be on President Obama’s desk for his expected signature shortly. 

As I wrote in greater detail last week, the bill authorizes $500 million in diesel clean-up funds over the next five years.  And, at a time when some environmental programs are being challenged, it continues a popular, bi-partisan program that brings cleaner school buses, trucks, construction equipment, and farm engines to communities across the nation.

One reason why DERA has been popular on both sides of the political aisle is because of the obvious need to clean up the dirty diesel engines in our midst.  Older diesel buses and trucks spew out huge amounts of particulate matter (or soot) that triggers asthma attacks and emergencies, bronchitis, cancer, and premature deaths, as well as nitrogen oxides that are a key contributor to our chronic ozone (or smog) problems in the summertime.

Today, we have the technology to eliminate at least 90-95% of these emissions with advanced pollution controls that are standard equipment on new engines.  And, many of the older engines can be retrofit to eliminate comparable amounts of pollution. 

But state and local governments are strapped for cash, and need some help.

That’s where DERA comes in.  Since 2005, 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. 

For example, in 2009-2010, roughly $350 million in DERA investments was matched by more than one billion in state and local funds.  (Indeed, in my own work, we’ve been able to leverage $7 million in DERA funds to create a $28 million pot for truck clean-up at the Port of New York and New Jersey over the past year).

Another reason why DERA has been such a bi-partisan story is that DERA has been a great example of cost-effective environmental legislation.  Every dollar spent on diesel retrofits yields at least $13 in health benefits – thanks to the reduced asthma emergencies, cancer, premature deaths and other health benefits of cleaner diesel engines. 

These are just two of the reasons why DERA has always been a bipartisan story.  In the recent Senate debate, Republican Senators like Senator George V. Voinovich (R-OH) and James M. Inhofe (R-OK) were vocal supporters, as were Democrat Senators like Senator Thomas R. Carper (D-DE) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA).  That’s why the Senate passed its DERA bill by unanimous consent, and why the House passed its DERA bill on its suspension calendar, usually reserved for non-controversial items.

Passing DERA took a coalition effort – more than 500 environmental, public health, business, labor, and state/local government leaders endorsed DERA, and Congress heard the message loud and clear.

Congratulations to all who worked on this team effort, and here’s to cleaner air for all in the New Year.

 

 

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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