By TARA ALATORRE
PHOENIX – The Deer Valley Unified School District will replace four old buses with new clean diesel models through the assistance of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Diesel Emissions Reduction Act grants, which are facilitated through the Maricopa County Air Quality Department (MCAQD).
The Diesel Emissions Reduction Program Energy Policy Act of 2005 provides funding for the statewide Clean Diesel Grant Program, which are also referred to as DERA grants. The grants were created to retrofit and replace old, polluting diesel vehicles with new cleaner burning diesel engines and equipment; reducing harmful emissions of particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxides.
The DERA grant will cover 25 percent of the Deer Valley Unified School District’s (DVUSD) cost to replace the old diesel buses with new 2019 models, helping improve the county’s air quality.
“We [MCAQD] signed an agreement with the State of Arizona to administer the program in Maricopa County because this is where there was an issue with ozone,” Larz Garcia, the MCAQD grant program administrator said in an interview with The Foothills Focus. “So, we’re focusing on Maricopa County.”
This is the third year MCAQD has administered the program that funds the DERA grants in an effort to reduce the amount pollutants emitted, and the number of high pollution advisory days issued each year in Maricopa County.
The EPA sets federal guidelines for air quality standards, which became stricter in 2015. This year Maricopa County has issued 55 high pollution advisory alerts, with 45 of those being consecutive advisory days, according to MCAQD.
“In Maricopa County, over 60 percent of the emissions contributing to ozone are from vehicles,” said Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Air Quality Director Timothy Franquist. “Replacing older buses with ones that have newer and cleaner burning engines contributes to the many voluntary efforts we are encouraging within in the community to improve air quality.
MCAQD facilitates an annual competitive open grant application process that is available to anyone who qualifies, with the specific requirements for the DERA grant set by the EPA. Basically, most entities running a fleet with old diesel engines that operates them for enough hours each year may qualify.
“Small steps can add up to big changes with a population of over 4 million working together,” Franquist said of the DERA grants.
Engines made from 1995 to 2006 qualify for a vehicle replacement. Engines from 2007 to 2009 qualify for funding that pays for retrofitted components that reduce air pollution, or an engine replacement from diesel to electric or alternative fuel, according to Garcia.
Diesel emissions technology has vastly improved, reducing their emissions by over 90 percent, says Garcia about the advancements in diesel technology over the years.
The four replaced district buses will reduce ozone causing emissions by 554 pounds(.3 tons) annually in Maricopa County. These pollutants contribute to public health problems like asthma and other respiratory diseases, according to MCAQD.
One of the main reasons Maricopa County has so many high pollution days is the EPA lowered the air quality standard from 75 parts-per-billion (ppb) to 70 ppb in 2015. But also, because there were a lot of very hot, sunny days this summer and those conditions create ozone, according to Bob Huhn, a communications supervisor for MCAQD.
In total the EPA awarded MCAQD with $276,588 in DERA grants this year. Besides DVUSD’s buses, MCAQD plans on replacing and two Class 7 diesel flatbed trucks used by a recycling company. Eight additional buses are pending final grant approval with an additional $414,882 in grant funds.
“We get to collaborate with the federal government, local government, and public and private entities,” Huhn says of the DERA program. “We’re happy and pleased that we can do that and still get our air healthier and cleaner for our residents.’
For more information about DERA grants visit: https://www.maricopa.gov/4509/Clean-Diesel-Program.