Valley's smog-prone trucks could be replaced

SACRAMENTO -- The valley could get as much as $340 million in state money in coming years to replace pollution-spewing trucks, according to new information about a clean-air program set to make its debut next year.

Fresno-area leaders have lobbied hard for the money and are pleased with what they see so far, though many details still need to be finalized.

"The valley's effort to get our voice heard in Sacramento has reached the decision makers, and we're pleased about that," said Pete Weber, a civic leader who has teamed with valley air regulators to lobby for the money.

The program was created in November when voters passed Proposition 1B. The $19.9 billion transportation bond includes $1 billion for projects to reduce pollution along trade corridors.

The state Air Resources Board, which will distribute the $1 billion, released "draft concepts" last week that will guide development of the program over the coming months.

Most of the money, about $560 million, will go toward reduction of pollution at ports in the Bay Area and Southern California. But $340 million was reserved for upgrading long-haul diesel trucks and installing auxiliary power systems at truck stops to reduce engine idling.

The valley has some of the worst air in the nation, and trucks are a major contributor to the problem. Among vehicles, diesel trucks account for 80 percent of a key smog-making gas called oxides of nitrogen, or NOx.

Furthermore, nearly half of the diesel truck traffic in the state's four major transportation corridors passes through the valley, accounting for an estimated 11.6 million miles daily.

Armed with that data, valley officials are confident they will land a major chunk of the truck money when grants are announced.

"It's our understanding that most of the $340 million will be aimed at the valley," Weber said.

San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District officials estimate the money could help remove about 7,000 polluting trucks. The district also hopes to snare some of the port money to replace older trucks that run from valley farm packinghouses to the ports.

The state air board will allocate $250 million of the $1 billion in 2007-08, with grants scheduled to be announced in the spring.

The valley air district is finalizing a truck replacement proposal that would work this way:

Trucking companies could apply for grants to help replace trucks from model years 2000-04. The companies then would give those trucks to companies running even older trucks. The older trucks then would be crushed.

The idea is that you "replace two dirtier trucks with one transaction," said Seyed Sadredin, the air district's executive director.

Environmentalists agree with the need to replace trucks, but worry that the district's program leaves room for abuse. For instance, a large company might use state money to pay for a truck replacement it already had planned, said Liza Bolanos, coordinator for Central Valley Air Quality Coalition, a nonprofit group representing public health and environmental organizations.

"We want to make sure that this money is used to incentivize actions," she said.

Sadredin said the district is confident it can identify worthy recipients.

"We will not give it to a truck owner that would have replaced their trucks anyway," he said.