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September 5, 2019 6:00 PM, EDT

Diesel Advocates Push for Greater DERA Funding

A technician installs a retrofit diesel particulate filter on a truck at the Ironman Renewal facility in San Leandro, Calif. A technician installs a retrofit diesel particulate filter on a truck at the Ironman Renewal facility in San Leandro, Calif. (2014 TT file photo)

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Federal lawmakers and industry proponents are divided over how much funding should be dedicated to a federal program to reduce emissions and improve clean diesel technology.

The U.S. House of Representatives is mulling an annual disbursement of $55 million for the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, well below a target of $87 million set by supporters of the law, according to Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum.

But both figures top the $10 million that President Donald Trump’s budget requested for the program.

The latest funding proposal for the 14-year-old program is in America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act, which includes a provision reauthorizing DERA at $100 million annually, through 2024. The act was introduced on July 29, and passed unanimously through the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee on July 30.

But DERA supporters know that urging lawmakers to back the program is an annual rite.

“(Funding) takes place every year and I don’t think anyone looks forward to it,” said Schaeffer, speaking of lobbying efforts to boost or maintain spending on DERA.

The White House believes cleaner engines now on the market will gradually replace older models, making greater funding unnecessary. A senior Trump official told Transport Topics that is the rationale for the administration’s $10 million proposal. The official noted that funding from recent auto-emissions violations settlements, such as the Volkswagen lawsuit, also provide resources for initiatives similar to that of the DERA program.

DERA was passed in 2005 as part of the Energy Policy Act. These days, many industry leaders and members of Congress are enamored with electric truck technology. But for the near future, Schaeffer believes diesel will remain “the fuel of choice for commercial vehicles.”

Industry consultant Darry Stuart agrees. “Diesel is not going to go away,” said Stuart, president of DWS Fleet Management. “And I don’t see anytime soon the government is going to slow down on funding (for DERA).”

Stuart believes electric trucks will come into longhaul usage faster than expected, perhaps giving national fleets a “50-50” choice in 10 years. But he still sees diesel engines surviving as they become cleaner. Diesel technology also is cheaper, and doesn’t require the large batteries that electric trucks need, he said.

“The newer trucks are pretty good,” he said, noting modern diesel's reduced emissions of particulate matter and nitrogen oxides.

Schaeffer

Since DERA took effect, $629 million has been allocated to clean-diesel efforts. According to Schaeffer, this has prevented 472,000 tons of NOx from reaching the skies, while saving 454 million gallons of diesel fuel.

More improvements can be made if DERA is well-funded, he said.

“Diesel is not a technology that is standing still,” he said. “Now is the time to get out the magic tricks again, and improve fuel efficiency.”

Schaeffer told TT more than half of U.S. diesel engines do not have updated emissions equipment. Truck manufacturers began adding diesel particulate filters to engines in 2007 and selective catalytic reduction (SCR) in 2010, but older models have neither. The filters capture diesel particulate matter, while SCR reduces NOx, he said.

Research done by the American Transportation Research Institute found that the average age of Class 8 tractors was 4.8 years, meaning the average Class 8 truck likely has both technologies. ATRI president Rebecca Brewster told TT that the average replacement cycle for a Class 8 truck is 7.6 years.

Schaeffer believes more than 36% of all Class 3-8 registered commercial trucks are near-zero emissions.