Energy Department Expands Comlpiance Opportunities

State transportation departments trying to meet their purchasing requirements for alternative-fuel vehicles now have more options, thanks to a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) rule issued March 20.

Since 2000, when the department issued a rule under the Energy Policy Act of 1992, states have had to ensure that 75 % of the light-duty vehicles that they buy each year are powered by either ethanol (E85) or compressed natural gas

There was just one problem: lack of access to these vehicles by states on both coasts, which need them the most.

Chrysler and Ford's E85 models don't meet California's Clean Air standards, which are tougher than federal requirements (and form the basis of some other states' requirements). What's more, there's only one natural-gas-powered light-duty vehicle on the market: the Honda Civic GX.

Congress responded to this problem by requiring the DOE to develop an alternative-feul compliance program. Beginning this year, states can use hybrids and low-idle vehicles to meet "gasoline-displacement" requirements for light-duty vehicles. And, for the first time, they can apply medium-and heavy-duty trucks that run on propane and compressed natural gas toward the requirement.

DOE technology specialist Linda Bluestein says that to make advantage of the alternative-compliance program, states must submit applications to the department explaining how they compute their petroleum-reduction goals and their strategy for meeting them (see link).

Unlike states, cities and counties aren't subject to alternative-fuel purchase requirements--yet.

In another rule issued on the same date, the DOE pushed back by two decades--from 2010 to 2030--the date by which the United States must replace 30% of the petroleum and diesel it's currently using with alternative fuels. To meet that goal, the DOE is considering whether local governments should be subject to the same 75% alternative-fuel-vehicle purchase mandate to which states are subjected.

The department has until Sept. 6 to make a preliminary decision on that issue.

In the meantime, some fleet managers want the department to include them in the mandate.

If that happens, figures Kevin Herdler, director of fleet and building services for Kirkwood, MO. (population: 28,000), the federal government would offer financial incentives to help local governments afford alternative-fuel vehicles, which are more expensive than their gasoline and diesel-powered counterparts.

Three of Kirkwood;s 20 pickup trucks are fueled by compressed natural gas and Herdler, who's also director of the St. Louis regional Clean Cities program, would like to buy more. But the city could use some help with the $6000 to $8000 price premium.

Visit www.eere.energy.gov for a guidance document and online tutorial.

Grants Fund Infarstructure in Disadvantaged Areas

The Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration is accepting grant applications from cities and counties in its Public Works and Economic Development Investments Program.

Established in 1965, the program funds improvements in water and sewer systems, industrial access roads, industrial and business parks, port facilities redevelopment of brownfields, and eco-industrial facilities in "distressed" areas.

Although grants typically cover half of a project's total cost, they can go higher.

Coachella, Calif., recently received $2.5 million to fund roadway and water and sewer system improvements necessary to expand its Rancho Coachella Industrial park. Another $1.5 million went to York, S.C. to upgrade the city's Fishing Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Each of the Commerce Department's six regional offices decides whether a project is qualified based on a city's unemployment rates, per capita income, and special needs.

Eligible activities include acquiring or developing land for a public works, public service, or development facility; and acquisition, design and engineering, construction, rehabilitation, alteration, expansion, or improvement of publicly owned and operated development facilities, including related machinery and equipment."

Visit www.eda.gov.

Steve Barlas has served as a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer for trade and professional magazines since 1981. In that time, he has covered nearly every federal regulatory agency, cabinet department, and congressional committee, with a special emphasis on the EPA.