New Jersey to vote on funding diesel retrofits

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New Jersey voters will decide the fate of a constitutional amendment Nov. 8 that would fund a new diesel reduction program by reallocating revenue from the state’s corporate business tax.

Acting Gov. Richard Codey, a Democrat, signed legislation Sept. 7 to reduce diesel emissions from school buses, garbage trucks, transit buses and other publicly owned vehicles.

The bill’s method for funding the program must go before voters because it alters constitutionally dedicated environmental funds.

The state estimates the new program would reduce diesel emissions by 500 tons annually and save $1.4 billion in health care and related costs.

New, cleaner vehicles exist, but numerous older ones will remain in use, said the bill’s sponsor in the Assembly, John McKeon. “The environment cannot wait 20 years for these engines to die out,” he said. Both McKeon and the bill’s Senate sponsor, Bob Smith, are Democrats.

The diesel retrofit program would fund installation of particulate traps and other emissions-control devices in tailpipes.

The bill also speeds up to 2007 the introduction of ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel for off-road diesel vehicles.

The bill proposes to shift 17 percent of existing environmental funds away from site cleanup. It also would provide up to $10 million from the state’s $80 million surplus for underground storage tanks.

This will shift an annual $16 million in constitutionally dedicated environmental funds from the corporate business tax, according to the New Jersey Public Interest Group, which supported the legislation.

The new law also would fit diesel-powered school buses with closed crankcases and require state officials to study the benefit.

New Jersey law already prohibits the idling of diesel vehicles for more than three minutes.