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Enlisting in War on Smog

Environment: Air quality officials launch drive for a business-government partnership to add more cleaner-fuel vehicles.

October 08, 2002|GARY POLAKOVIC | TIMES STAFF WRITER

California air quality officials are expected today to announce a new initiative to help get more alternative-fuel cars and trucks on the road to help cut soot and smog.

The California Natural Gas Vehicle Partnership is an effort by business and government leaders to close ranks behind a series of regulations that Los Angeles-area smog fighters recently approved to convert fleets of taxis, trash trucks, shuttle buses and other vehicles to clean fuels.

The goal of the partnership is to place about 777,000 natural gas-powered vehicles on the highways in 10 years, a huge increase from the 19,000 such vehicles that operate in California today.

"The status quo is unsustainable," said Norma Glover, a Newport Beach councilwoman and chair of the South Coast Air Quality Management District governing board. "Natural gas vehicles are clean and available today, [and] California must deploy more."

While limited numbers of natural gas cars and trucks are in use, they are constrained in part by a lack of refueling stations. A chief goal of the program will be to increase the availability of fueling stations as fleets expand.

However, the partnership program does not call for new government spending or regulatory initiatives to get the job done. Instead, Glover said, the proposal relies on outreach and education to promote use of the vehicles.

Among the participants, Ford Motor Co. is providing natural gas cars for taxi fleets, Waste Management Inc. will deploy garbage trucks using the fuel, and Super Shuttle Corp. will use natural gas airport vans.

California Air Resources Board Chairman Alan Lloyd said the program is part of an ongoing effort to diversify fuels used by trucks, buses and cars.

"Any time we can have some competition with fuels, it's healthy and good. Natural gas is a technology that has developed for heavy-duty engines," Lloyd said.

Fueling the push to cleaner fuels are recent studies that link diesel soot to health and environmental problems, including cancer, asthma and global warming. A 2-year-old study found diesel soot accounts for 70% of the air pollution cancer hazard in the Los Angeles region.

But finding an alternative to diesel fuel has been difficult. Diesel engines are cheap, reliable and powerful. They are getting cleaner and cleaner, too, as soot traps and improved engine designs reduce emissions.

Last year, the Air Resources Board approved regulations that require a 90% reduction in sooty emissions from diesel engines by the end of the decade. Natural gas engines emit fewer nitrogen oxides, which can mix with other pollutants to form ozone and haze. However, natural gas engines typically cost more and some fleet operators complain they are not as durable as diesel models.

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