AQMD GOING TO HIGH COURT REGULATORS TO PRESS FOR UPHOLDING FLEET-VEHICLE EMISSIONS RULES.
Southern California air regulators will ask the U.S. Supreme Court today to uphold rules aimed at cutting emissions from private and public fleets of diesel- and gasoline-fueled vehicles - a case that could impact the nation's efforts to reduce pollution.
The rules target toxic diesel exhaust from vehicles that frequent residential neighborhoods, such as transit and school buses, trash trucks, airport shuttles and taxis, street sweepers and utility trucks. Operators with more than 15 vehicles have to switch to cleaner fuels or lower-emission models when expanding or replacing vehicles.
Engine manufacturers sued the South Coast Air Quality Management District in 2000, arguing that only the federal government can set new limits for commercial engines. They also claim they would have to develop new models for Los Angeles-area vehicles.
``By putting a purchasing ban on a number of different types of vehicles that otherwise meet (state) and (federal) emission standards, the South Coast Air Quality Management District is essentially setting up their own emissions standards,'' which is barred by the Clean Air Act, said Joe Suchecki, director of public affairs for the Engine Manufacturers Association.
Petroleum makers joined the lawsuit, saying the rules act essentially to ban the use of diesel fuel.
AQMD officials said the rules don't require manufacturers to develop new engines, but order fleet operators to choose the cleanest engines on the market.
The U.S. Department of Justice sided with the engine manufacturers last year and filed briefs opposing the AQMD argument, further confounding air regulators who see themselves battling the federal government for the right to cut air pollution at home.
The AQMD case has national implications, said Bill Becker, executive director of the State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators Association of Local Air Pollution Control Officers in Washington, D.C. The group has filed a brief supporting the AQMD.
``If we lose the case, it will remove major regulatory tools that states and localities around the country now have to clean up the air,'' Becker said.
State programs that offer financial incentives for hybrid vehicles could be at risk, as well as state laws that require state agencies to buy alternative vehicles, Becker said.
Here in metropolitan Los Angeles, the rules have prompted the phase-out of diesel equipment and the purchase of 3,000 alternative-fuel buses, 943 cleaner trash trucks and 3,430 low-emission passenger cars.
The district has offered $100 million in incentives for vehicle replacement and has given exemptions to school districts and taxi companies when they couldn't afford to buy cleaner models and industrial operators when they couldn't find cleaner versions of highly specialized vehicles.
Kerry Cavanaugh, (818) 713-3746