Houston’s plan to purchase the newest generation of diesel technology with funds from the Volkswagen settlement is a smart, sensible plan. And if Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality want to ensure the greatest number of Texans receive the greatest clean-air benefits for the available funds, they should follow Houston’s example.
Overall, Texas is set to receive $209 million from the settlement established after automakers of Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche brands OK’d claims that it cheated U.S. vehicle emissions standards. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has requested $18 million to update the city’s truck fleet with 71 new diesel trucks and 14 compressed natural gas trucks.
The newest generation of diesel technology, or clean diesel, offers cities proven and available technologies that can be put into service immediately. Strategies that advocate for an all-electric approach sacrifice the clean-air benefits available today in favor of expensive and potentially unavailable technologies that, coupled with delay, will leave the air in many Texas communities dirtier for years to come.
Often the largest sources of emissions of oxides of nitrogen, a smog-forming compound, are heavy-duty vehicles and equipment. The vast majority of these vehicles are powered by diesel, but many do not use the latest, cleanest diesel technologies. In Texas, most NOx emissions come from mobile sources.
Fortunately, Texas already has one of the highest clean-diesel truck adoption rates in the country. According to a recent analysis of clean diesel adoption in Class 3-8 trucks nationwide, Texas ranks third among the 50 states. However, this still means that only 35.6 percent of the Texas Class 3-8 trucking fleet uses the latest, cleanest, near-zero diesel technology. Houston’s proposal rightly calls for projects to directly target these vehicles.
A well-designed plan from TCEQ for reducing emissions and cleaning the air prioritizes the replacement of as many of these older, high-emitting vehicles and equipment as possible. In this scenario, clean diesel technology is a trusted partner, delivering more emission reductions on a dollar-per-pound basis than other alternatives, including all-electric options.
Here’s an example: According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Port Strategy Assessment, replacing one older Class 8 port truck with a new clean diesel model can eliminate 1,282 pounds of NOx for about $110,000. Replacing that same truck with a battery electric model could reduce NOx by 1,326 pounds but at a price double that of a clean diesel truck.
For a fixed investment, more older and higher-emitting trucks can be replaced with a clean diesel model faster than with an investment in all-electric technology and infrastructure. Put another way, investing in the all-electric option would actually keep more older and higher-emitting trucks on the road.
As TCEQ works toward a comprehensive plan for Texas’ share of the settlement funds, TCEQ Commissioner Jon Niermann should recognize the significant, immediate benefits that an investment-proven and available technologies, such as clean diesel, can provide, rather than favoring the unproven and risky longer-term benefits from all-electric technologies.
Texans need a strategy that will deliver immediate emissions-reduction benefits to communities that have been promised benefits. There is still time to prioritize these solutions and maximize clean-air investments for all Texans.
Schaeffer is executive director of the nonprofit Diesel Technology Forum, the leading advocate for diesel technology.