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February 21, 2017   |   Diesel Technology Forum

Policy Insider

What’s working when it comes to EPA and industry? An Editorial View from the ED

Something must be working. How we got to this position is the result of many people, forces and influences, not the least of which has been collaborating, disagreeing but ultimately coming together to work together and make real progress.

As EPA under new Administrator Scott Pruitt starts to take shape, much is being said, but what can be learned from past experiences? Case in point:  diesel engines. As the central motive power for 15 sectors of the global economy, diesel engines have always been in the spotlight for one reason or another. 

Everyone has their “lessons learned” advice to share, and I submit that there is a lesson to be learned on how to work together towards common objectives... from none other than the experience with diesel. It’s been a mix of traditional federal regulatory requirements, voluntary incentive based efforts and freedom for states to do more in some areas, a role for renewables, and a new focus squarely on efficiency.  

A landmark regulation adopted in 2000 by President Clinton set forth a challenge for diesel engine manufacturers, to reduce emissions of particulates and nitrogen oxides to near-zero levels within a decade. That meant over 90 percent cuts in emissions from pre-2000 levels. Fuel refiners were key, and EPA for the first time considered fuel and engine emissions standards together, and required starting in 2006 that sulfur levels in diesel fuel be reduced by over 97 percent. 

As industry has learned, progress did not come cheaply nor easily. Engine, truck and equipment manufacturers invested billions of dollars over that decade as did refiners to install capacity to cut the sulfur emissions from diesel fuel.  Achieving near zero emissions was a challenging effort for engine manufacturers who had to work hard just to maintain the reliability, performance and efficiency their customers came to expect, let alone make further gains in those critical areas. 

In the last two years, the American Lung Association in its State of the Air report, identified cleaner diesel fleets as one of the keys to improving air quality across much of the U.S. Today in Southern California more fine particles come from road dust and tire wear than from commercial heavy-duty diesel trucks.

And clean diesel is in demand outside the U.S. as well. In the last week in December 2016, 10 million barrels of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel were exported, the highest export of clean distillate fuels ever. Recent data shows that 1 of every 4 heavy-duty diesel engines manufactured in the U.S. is destined for export, and the export to value ratio is five times higher for diesel engines, equipment and fuels than the national average. 

Now In 2017 we are squarely in the second if not third or fourth generation of advanced clean diesel technology. Key to the success of the clean diesel effort are many. For industry, adequate time for compliance, an EPA and CARB commitment to a single national standard, a cleaner fuel, and some reasonable flexibilities in implementation enabled the technology success we have today. Environmental and public health advocates’ voices were heard, as was industry’s voice.

This cooperative model for new technology standards is not alone. In 2005, Congress got involved with a new incentive-based effort to modernize and upgrade existing older diesel engines. The Diesel Emissions Reduction Act Program (DERA) crossed party lines and ideologies and brought together industry, regulators and environmental advocates.

Signed into law by a Republican president and with bipartisan support during the Democratic administrations of the last eight years, it has a proven track record of delivering real clean air and fuel saving benefits. It leverages public dollars in a big way, giving the program a larger feel and the ability to impact more communities than it otherwise could.

So for diesel, the challenge was attacked on both ends; make the new technology as clean as possible and apply new knowledge and technology to upgrade existing engines and equipment where it makes sense. Keep an eye on the future by evolving engine technology to be able to use increasing blends of advanced renewable low-carbon, high-quality biodiesel fuels. Empower states to get the gross emitters repaired or off the road. Use energy wisely by becoming more fuel efficient.

Our U.S.-grown clean diesel fuel and advanced clean diesel engine technology are today near zero in emissions and the foundation of key sectors of our economy. Something must be working. How we got to this position is the result of many people, forces and influences, not the least of which has been collaborating, disagreeing but ultimately coming together to work together and make real progress. 

Views of Allen Schaeffer, Executive Director, Diesel Technology Forum


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