Federal Update
Wasted energy
Despite approval, a nasty case of bureaucrat-itis stalls grant program for upgrading, retrofitting trucks

By Aaron Ladage
staff writer

A funding glitch is postponing a program in the recently passed Energy Bill that will give grants to truck owners for upgrading or retrofitting their rigs. The money won't be available until at least October 2006.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 - which was signed into law by President Bush Aug. 8, 2005 - included the Diesel Truck Retrofit and Fleet Modernization Program.

After the funding for the program is approved, the Environmental Protection Agency will be responsible for dividing up $100 million to different state and local groups. These state and local groups will get the money into the hands of the truck owners who want to purchase newer, less polluting trucks and engine upgrades.

Land Line originally reported on a version of the program, sponsored by Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, D-CA, in an article titled "Emission Granted?" in the July 2005 issue. Millender-McDonald's version of the amendment did not make it into the final draft of the Energy Bill; however, a virtually identical amendment, drafted by Sen. George Voinovich, R-OH, made the final cut.

Specific language in the bill called for funding for the program to begin in federal fiscal year 2006, which began in October 2005. However, funding for the program was not included in the fiscal year 2006 budget.

Because of this, the National Governors' Association - along with more than 200 groups in the environmental, transportation and public health sectors - are lobbying to include specific line-item funding for the project in the president's fiscal year 2007 budget. If included in the president's budget, it will still have to be approved in next year's Congressional Appropriations Committee.

The bottom line? Truckers won't be able to receive grants to buy new trucks until at least October 2006, when the 2007 federal fiscal year begins.

Mike Joyce, senior government affairs representative in OOIDA's Washington, DC, office, said the problem with getting the program started in 2006 has to do with the difference between authorizing a program and funding a program.

"Authorization bills are one thing, but they need to be supported by the funding, which comes from the appropriations bill. Without the funding, the agencies that have been directed to move down the road of a new program, they're not going to really do anything," Joyce said.

"They might do some preliminary work to get prepared for it, but especially on a pilot program like that, they're not going to spend money they don't have to move forward with the program."

Tanya Meekins, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency, agreed with Joyce's assessment. She said the EPA had not yet established any ground rules for the program.

"We haven't implemented anything at this point," Meekins said. "We don't have any new programs or any new proposals as a result of the Energy Bill at this time."