Gas Pains

We noted this story in “USNewswire” two weeks ago, but no one gave it follow-up air time.

“LOS ANGELES, Feb. 26 – The Diesel Technology Forum issued the following statement today questioning a recently announced plan by the Port of Long Beach harbor commissioners to replace at least half of current port drayage diesel trucks with trucks powered by liquified natural gas (LNG). At issue is expenditure of public funds and whether there is any advantage of LNG trucks compared with new or retrofitted clean diesel trucks.

“California has been at the forefront pushing for cleaner diesel engines and fuels, and the diesel industry and fuel refiners have delivered the first wave of new cleaner technology. With new Ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, on average new diesel vehicles now have near equivalent or lower emissions compared to LNG vehicles (See Figures 1 & 2), which cost nearly twice as much to purchase and require new multi-million dollar fueling station infrastructure, said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, a trade group made up of vehicle manufacturers, engine-makers, components suppliers and energy companies. The Forum has offices in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

“According to the Port of Los Angeles presentation at the 2008 Faster Freight, Cleaner Air conference on February 15, 2008 in Los Angeles, new clean diesel drayage trucks cost approximately $ 110,000 each, significantly less than comparable LNG vehicles at $ 210,000. And the port acknowledged the emissions levels of the two types of trucks are very, very close. The other major hidden cost of natural gas technology is the need for infrastructure. Clean diesel vehicles are able to use the current refueling infrastructure while new LNG vehicles require new fueling stations, costing an estimated more than $ 5 million each (per AQMD estimate).

“‘It is reasonable to suspect that the economics behind this decision will substantially delay cleaner air for the surrounding communities, since for every LNG truck ordered, nearly two clean diesel trucks could be on the road today,’ said Schaeffer. ‘This expenditure of public funds designating a technology winner does a disservice to truckers and companies seeking to upgrade their vehicles and the surrounding community that want cost-effective and timely ways to clean up the air. The 2007 emissions certification data tells the story: On average clean diesel is lower than natural gas in 4 of 5 emissions categories – particulate matter, carbon monoxide, methane, and non-methane hydrocarbons. Diesels are just 2.4 percent higher in emissions of nitrogen oxides. In terms of particulate matter, on average, 2007 natural gas vehicles are 233 percent higher than clean diesels.’

“The Port’s decision is further at odds with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) that has maintained a fuel-neutral and competitive playing field approach. Clean diesel equipment exists today in the form of CARB certified new engines and trucks and proven emissions control technology to help clean up older diesel trucks, Schaeffer said. By focusing on the most cost-effective, quickest route to cleaner air, California will be able to maximize its investment in cleaning up the air faster while keeping vital freight moving.

“As has been demonstrated repeatedly in public transit agencies, school bus fleets and other operations around the country, clean diesel technology consistently offers the greatest public benefits at the least cost, when compared to other fuels like compressed natural gas and liquified natural gas. Those fuels can compete only with substantial subsidies, grants or mandates.

“Even considering the highly preferential nature of the Port’s decision, we’re confident that truckers will immediately recognize the benefits of clean diesel vehicles over any other choice, said Schaeffer. Owning a clean diesel truck offers truckers an overall lower cost of operation and ownership without subsidies or special dispensation, likelihood of higher resale and trade values for a proven and widespread technology rather than a niche technology; a widespread national service and fueling infrastructure, ability to diversify their trucking services beyond the narrow range limitations of LNG vehicles and the confines of the Port which they must be tethered for fuel to serve other markets in California and other states.

“The California Air Resources Board last year presented data that showed Level 3 emissions retrofit equipment that costs about $ 30,000 will reduce pollution in older trucks by 85 percent. CARB staff has recognized the cost-effectiveness of retrofitted and new diesel vehicles as a means of cleaning up the air in ports. As an example, CARB has proposed that $ 25 million in early grant projects for goods movement air quality improvements to be allocated primarily to truck retrofits and replacement. According to CARB, the money will be used to replace or retrofit 1,000 older trucks.

“Under the Highway Safety, Traffic Reduction, Air Quality and Port Security Bond Act of 2006, CARB is authorized to spend a total of $ 1 billion on air quality improvement projects in California’s major trade corridors. These corridors include the Los Angeles/Inland Empire Region, the Central Valley, the Bay Area and the San Diego/Border Region. New diesel vehicles are up to 98 percent cleaner than the older trucks that are being replaced. Retrofits are another cost-effective means of reducing tailpipe emissions. Retrofit devices can be installed on vehicles to reduce in-use emissions up to 85 percent, depending on the technology and the characteristics of the vehicle or equipment.

“About the Clean Trucks Program: The Clean Trucks Program provides one-time financial assistance to truck drivers to acquire new cleaner equipment or retrofit existing equipment; it progressively phases out access to the ports by the oldest equipment and establishes Cargo fees to fund the entire effort. According to the Port plan, grants for LNG trucks will range from $ 90,000 to $ 120,000 while clean diesel truck grants could be from $ 60,000 to $ 75,000. In addition, cargo owners will further subsidize natural gas vehicle users through exempting LNG vehicles from the ongoing cargo fee, while selectively imposing a $ 17.50 fee per loaded 20 foot equivalent container (TEU) unit on clean diesel trucks. The LNG truck approach has public implications since the Ports indicate they plan to use taxpayer funds through the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the state Proposition 1B transportation bond funds to fund technology choices.

“In effect, California taxpayers will be subsidizing a pre-selected and favored technology – Liquified Natural Gas – rather than allowing competitive free market forces to determine the most cost effective technology.”

[Diesel exhaust isn’t the only smell emanating from out in La-La land.]