updated 1/30/2004 6:58:51 PM ET 2004-01-30T23:58:51

Dozens of states are pursuing tightened controls on diesel pollution from heavy-duty trucks and buses, with the aim of adopting California’s emission limits out of fear that new federal standards might be delayed or weakened.

State air pollution officials say they are taking pre-emptive action because they worry the federal government will not follow through with new federal rules to require all the big new diesel rigs, or replacement engines, to reduce emissions more than 90 percent by 2010.

Some trucking companies have said they would like the standards delayed because of fear that the new trucks will be too expensive or will use more fuel. Some House members have asked for an audit of how the rules were made and their possible impacts.

“We are moving ahead with this action to provide absolute certainty that these standards take effect on time,” Bill Becker, director of a pair of Washington-based trade groups for state and local air pollution control officials, said Friday. “I would expect dozens of states to pursue the adoption of California standards.”

The pollution controllers wrote the American Trucking Associations, a trade group, on Friday with word that they plan to “work with states ... to opt into California’s highway diesel emission standards for 2007.” California’s standards are the strictest in the country.

“If the provisions of the 2007 (federal) rule are weakened or delayed, clean air efforts across the country will be severely undermined and public health will suffer,” the pollution control groups’ presidents, James A. Joy III and Cory R. Chadwick, wrote.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimated its new rule would prevent every year some 8,300 premature deaths, 5,500 cases of chronic bronchitis and 17,600 cases of acute bronchitis in children.

Spokesman John Millett said EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt was determined that the rules would be invoked. “There’s no way of pulling back from the heavy duty highway diesel standards,” Millett said. “The administrator is going to have the strongest diesel standards in the world — cleaner fuels and cleaner engines.”

‘Don’t really know what to expect’
Glen Kedzie, an attorney for the trucking trade group, said the industry wants assurances that new truck engines will meet the new standards.

“Our industry is all in favor of clean air. Our industry is all in favor of using proven technologies. We just don’t really know what to expect with the 2007 engines,” he said.

Kedzie said new trucks will cost an average $5,000 to $10,000 more, and the fuel economy may be up to 20 percent less efficient. “That’s a major, major hurdle for a small business to overcome when fuel is a major expense for a company,” he said.

The new EPA regulations would require tractor-trailer rigs and other heavy-duty trucks and buses to cut their diesel pollution beginning in 2007, when half the new trucks, or replacement engines, must have met the tougher emission standards. All new engines would be covered by 2010.

Attempts to overturn rejected
In May 2002, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected attempts by truck engine builders and the oil industry to overturn the new air requirements. The rules were issued in the final weeks of the Clinton administration, upheld by the Bush administration and reaffirmed by an EPA scientific advisory panel in October 2002.

In court, the engine manufacturers argued the technology was unavailable to meet the more stringent tailpipe emission requirements by 2007, when they would begin to be phased in.

Federal law permits states either to follow the EPA tailpipe standards or to adopt California motor vehicle standards because they are at least as tough. California’s requirements are almost identical to the new ones from the EPA, calling for more than 90 percent reductions in smog-forming nitrogen oxides and particulate soot from diesel trucks and buses.

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