The future of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) recently fell into uncertainty amid proposals to cut federal spending, but the popular program has again emerged unscathed.
DERA’s latest escape from the budget axe is a testament to its broad support in multiple industries and on both sides of the political aisle.
Since it began in 2008, DERA has delivered about 690 grants to retrofit or replace older diesel vehicles — many of them school buses. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) DERA report to Congress last year listed school buses as the program’s most frequently funded vehicle sector from fiscal years 2009 through 2013.
The report, released in March 2016, also showed that nearly 13,000 diesel oxidation catalyst systems and about 1,400 diesel particulate filters had been installed on school buses with DERA funding. (Those numbers are likely higher now.)
In all, 73,000 vehicles or engines had been retrofitted or replaced through the program as of the 2016 report.
Despite its key role in curbing diesel emissions, DERA has on numerous occasions faced the threat of being “zeroed out.”
Earlier this year, as the new Trump administration eyed a so-called “skinny budget,” funding for DERA was one of the targets of proposed cuts. That led a coalition of groups to advocate for DERA in a letter to new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in March.
On April 19, the EPA announced a new round of DERA funding. The agency said that it expects to give out between 20 and 80 grants totaling at least $11 million for clean diesel projects.
(Since this story was published in the June issue, another $23 million in funding was added, for a total of $34 million. Also, EPA said that the deadline for proposals for the grant opportunity has been extended from June 20 to July 5.)
The new grant opportunity, it should be noted, tapped into previously passed funding. DERA’s funding level for the rest of the year remained unclear until May 1, when Congress released its fiscal year 2017 appropriations bill, which provides discretionary funding for the federal government.
Among the line items in the massive bill was a significant bump for DERA: $60 million for fiscal year 2017, which is a 20% increase from the 2016 level of $50 million.
As the next step in securing DERA’s future, an effort is underway to pass a reauthorization bill that would extend the program for about five more years. As of press time, the bill was being readied for introduction in Congress.
Even after the recent threats to DERA, the new funding increase passed by Congress is not a big surprise when you consider the history of the program.
As Allen Schaeffer of the Diesel Technology Forum points out in our “5 Questions” interview, the Obama administration also aimed to “zero out” DERA in budget proposals on more than one occasion, but Congress stepped in to continue funding the program.
DERA certainly has its champions on Capitol Hill, and the school bus industry has also been an important participant and advocate for the program.
Considering that a big portion of DERA grants have gone toward retrofitting or replacing older diesel school buses — which means cleaner air for students and their communities — the program is one example of federal spending that anyone can get behind.