TRUCKS: Fund Fuels California's Clean Air Effort

Waste haulers in Southern California are on the front lines - helping to clean up some of the nation's worst air pollution.

Several waste hauling companies, with the help of government incentive funds, have or are in the process of voluntarily converting more than 130 heavy duty refuse hauling and transfer trucks from diesel to clean-burning natural gas.

Waste firms are setting a good example of environmental stewardship and preparing for a proposed air quality rule, which may require waste hauling fleets in Southern California to buy clean-fueled vehicles when they replace worn out equipment.

For example, Waste Management of the Desert in Palm Desert, Calif., has converted 30 of its 75 curbside refuse and recycling trucks from diesel to compressed natural gas (CNG) powered engines.

Waste Management's trucks, powered by Cummins CNG engines, have the same driving range as conventional diesel-powered refuse trucks and are refueled at the company. Refuse truck drivers and the public like the CNG trucks because they are quieter than diesel and don't belch any black soot.

Last year, a new incentive program provided a major boost for California firms seeking to convert heavy duty diesel vehicles and equipment to clean fuels. The Carl Moyer Memorial Air Quality Standards Attainment Program - named after the late Carl Moyer, a prominent clean-fuel scientist - is aimed at reducing smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions as well as cancer-causing exhaust from diesel engines. The program is administered in Southern California by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), Diamond Bar, Calif., the region's air pollution control agency.

In the last fiscal year, the Moyer program offered $25 million statewide to replace heavy duty diesel engines with alternative fuel models. This fiscal year, $23 million was offered. Waste management firms have been the most aggressive industry to apply for and receive funds.

Last year, four waste hauling firms and one public agency received nearly $5 million to convert 104 trucks to natural gas or dual fuel, a mixture of approximately 15 percent diesel and 85 percent natural gas. This year, seven firms submitted proposals totaling $7.3 million to convert more than 50 trucks to clean fuels. AQMD will select projects this spring for the $3 million available to heavy duty trucks in this year's program.

Waste management firms are an important part of the solution to Southern California's air pollution, among the worst in the nation. In fact, Southern California violated the federal ozone standard on 42 days - a number exceeded only by the Houston area.

By converting to natural gas engines that emit roughly half of the nitrogen oxides of a new diesel engine and less than one-quarter of the particulates, Southern California can make even more significant progress in reducing ozone pollution.

Last year's conversion of 104 refuse trucks through Moyer funds will reduce nitrogen oxides by 129 tons per year, the equivalent of eliminating 14.6 million average car trips.

Along with ozone pollution, another increasing focus of Southern Californians is cancer-causing toxic air pollution. An AQMD landmark 18-month study recently concluded that the lifetime cancer risk from toxic air pollutants averaged about 1,400 in 1 million (or 1 in 700).

Preliminary results indicate that diesel soot, primarily from heavy duty on-road vehicles, is responsible for about 70 percent of the total cancer risk.

The toxins study led AQMD to propose a fleet rule that would require waste hauling fleets and street sweepers, among others, to purchase clean-fueled or low-emission vehicles when they replace older models.

Under AQMD's recent proposal, any public or private waste hauling fleet with 15 or more vehicles would be subject to the requirement. Fleets of 100 or more vehicles would be affected starting in 2001, while fleets from 15 to 99 would be subject to the rule beginning in 2002.

AQMD is meeting with waste hauling operators to resolve concerns about the cost and availability of alternative fuel engines; the cost of fueling stations; potential funding sources; and applicability of alternative fuel to specialized refuse vehicles.

Through voluntary incentive programs and possibly a new fleet rule, waste management firms in Southern California are setting an example of how to reduce air pollution, improve public health and boost their public image for others across the country.

* $3.8 million for Waste Management of Orange County, Chino, Palm Desert and Moreno Valley, Calif., to retrofit 41 refuse collection trucks with Cummins natural gas engines.

* $616,480 for Specialty Transportation Services of Corona, Calif., to retrofit 40 waste transfer trucks with dual fuel Caterpillar engines.

* $375,592 to Burrtec Waste Industries Inc. of Fontana, Calif., to convert eight trucks to Caterpillar dual-fuel compressed or liquefied natural gas (LNG), and to purchase five new Mack LNG-fueled trucks.

* $245,000 to the city of Los Angeles Department of Sanitation to purchase 10 new sanitation trucks using Caterpillar dual-fuel engines.