The Bush administration announced Friday the federal government will for the first time target high-polluting diesel powered farm and construction equipment, but environmentalists warn the plan could allow some diesel engines to escape stringent control.
So-called off-road engines, including bulldozers, steamrollers and tractors, have long been a missing element in the federal efforts to clean the air. Thousands of machines used at construction sites and farms have gone unregulated, posing serious impediments in states such as California struggling to meet clean-air goals.
To reckon with the problem, the Bush administration outlined a four-prong strategy to target diesel fuel and engines that power the sooty machines. In an unusual step, the proposal is being jointly crafted by the White House Office of Management and Budget and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The two agencies will draft a final regulation to be released next year.
"The most significant environmental issues in terms of human health are elevated levels of fine particles. Other than reducing power plant emissions, we have to reduce emissions from these non-road engines. This is a big deal," said Jeffrey R. Holmstead, the EPA's director of air programs.
Among the strategies the Bush administration is considering are giving manufacturers of diesel engines breaks for early introduction of low-polluting machines and tradeable credits that can be swapped among trucks and buses on the highways and tractors and cranes, for instance, used off-road.
But the credit trading component of the program has environmentalists and Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., an architect of the Clean Air Act, crying foul. Critics say the plan will allow engine manufacturers the choice of cleaning up trucks and buses or farm and construction equipment rather than demanding maximum reductions from both sectors.
"These reductions in diesel emissions are absolutely essential and should not be traded away," Waxman wrote in a letter sent Friday to EPA Administrator Christie Whitman.
Furthermore, environmentalists fear that the credit-trading program could allow the industry to escape a tough, new rule governing diesel exhaust from highway vehicles, which the EPA adopted during the Clinton administration and then successfully defended in court last month.
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