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Texas Clean Air Plan Targeted by Lawmakers

May 16, 2005

Texas Clean Air Plan Targeted by Lawmakers

Underfunding and Amendment to TexasEmissions Reduction Plan (HB 2481) Will Threaten Effectiveness of Program

AUSTIN, Texas – Texas clean air plans are threatened due to proposed changes to the Texas Emission Reduction Plan (TERP), which would be less effective under legislative proposals to underfund it and reduce the clean up of diesel emissions, Public Citizen said today. The consumer advocacy organization called for lawmakers to provide enough money for the program and adequately clean up diesel engines.

During a late-night session last week, the Texas Senate Natural Resources Committee amended the TERP bill to eliminate the state’s ability to clean up switch engines used on trains and marine vessels.

The bill (HB 2481), which is expected to be debated on the Senate floor this week, also falls nearly 13 percent short of the necessary funding needed to meet required air emission reductions established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“TERP has been a very effective tool in reducing smog and clear the air over Texas,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “It requires funds be spent to clean up dirty diesel emissions and was designed to help clear the air throughout the state. The amendment, by Senator Mike Jackson of La Porte, is well-intentioned, but has huge unintended consequences.”

Jackson noted that the owners of switch engines used on trains and marine vessel engines do not contribute to the clean-up fund and amended the bill to require the money collected be spent on clean-up in proportion to amount contributed by each source. Currently, cleaning train and marine vessel engines is the cheapest way to reduce emissions and those engines are cleaned with fees generated from other sources. So the amendment means that the state could no longer spend TERP money to clean up these engines and reduce their emissions.

A recent report by ENVIRON, a consulting company, found that cleaning up diesel locomotives costs between $3,288 and $6,022 per ton. Cleaning up tug and tow boats is $5,714 a ton compared to $7,100 to clean up a truck or $8,140 to $8,440 per ton to clean up a bulldozer or other piece of off-road equipment.

“While I agree with the senator in principle, the program would be far less effective at reducing pollution under this proposal,” Smith said. “Seventy percent of the funds come from the fees on cars and light trucks, but diesel engines are seven to 10 times more polluting per mile than our cars and trucks, and they last far longer. That’s why the state has decided to tax us all to clean up the oldest and dirtiest engines in Texas.”

Original state plans call for spending about $130 million each year to clean up diesel engines and meet federal clean air requirements. The same report by ENVIRON has concluded that the program, with current funding, will fall 13 tons-per-day short of the reductions needed by 2010 to meet eight-hour ozone standards set by EPA. It also falls 13 tons-per-day short of meeting the 2010 goal in the Houston/Galveston areas, and seven tons-per-day short in the Dallas/Ft. Worth areas at the $130 million funding level. 

“Even with that grim news, the legislature has only appropriated $116 million per year, or 13 percent less than that of which the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has said it needed for the program,” said Smith. “These are the most polluting diesels, and every dollar spent cleaning up these engines goes a long way to cleaning up the air. If we eliminate these engines, the costs of reductions will increase $1,000 to $1,500 per ton and may make it impossible to meet the federal requirements to clean our air by 2010, without significantly raising the fees of all Texans.” 

In the program, fees are assessed to citizens through auto registration, vehicle inspections (including emission testing), diesel truck registrations and a fee charged on the rental or lease of diesel equipment.

“Not only do diesels contribute to smog, but they also cause cancer and other respiratory problems,” Smith said. “This is our health at stake here, and we should work to reduce emissions from all sources.”

TERP was first passed in 2001 and it has been used as a model for other programs across the county.