Smog Agency Seeks OK of Fleet Clean-Fuel Program

Times Staff Writer

Air quality officials said Monday they will seek approval this week for a broad new clean-fuels program that would require that all vehicles purchased by fleet operators after 1993--including rental car fleets and RTD buses--run on electricity or clean-burning fuels such as methanol.

To serve these vehicles, South Coast Air Quality Management District staff officials also will ask the AQMD governing board to require gasoline stations to install methanol-compatible underground fuel storage tanks whenever existing fuel storage tanks are replaced and require the sale of methanol by the early 1990s.

The staff also proposes to phase out diesel fuel used by stationary air pollution sources. In the meantime, the district said it will await tougher diesel fuel specifications for motor vehicles to be established next October by the state Air Resources Board. If the new state specifications are not strict enough, the district has the authority to make them tougher.

The controls are part of a proposed $30.4-million, five-year clean-fuels demonstration program to speed the commercialization of clean-burning fuels in the South Coast Air Basin, the nation's smoggiest.

The district's goal is the replacement of 40% of gasoline-powered passenger cars and 70% of diesel-burning trucks with clean-fuel vehicles by the year 2007.

The proposal, outlined in interviews by AQMD executive officer James M. Lents and Paul Wuebben, project manager of the district's Office of Technology Advancement, would mark a turning point in the way in which the district has attempted to reduce air pollution levels in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Most of the district's efforts to curb air pollution have involved the imposition of technological controls on smokestack and tailpipe emissions. Now, for the first time, the district said, it will mount a concerted drive to attack the very source of the emissions--the fuels themselves.

"We really have paid very scant attention to the quality of the fuels we utilize," Wuebben said.

He said that 95% of hydrocarbon emissions--a major ingredient of photochemical smog--are from the production, refining, distribution and end use of petroleum fuels. "It's due to that massive dependency on diesel and gasoline fuels that this air basin has such a significant air quality problem. In many respects it can be considered a petroleum fuel-use problem," Wuebben said.

Greater Reductions

By substituting methanol for diesel, for example, the district said there can be far greater reductions in certain air pollutants than might ever be achieved by adding more and more controls on existing diesel-burning engines.

The proposal is scheduled to be officially unveiled on Friday when it is presented to the district's new governing board, which will meet for the first time. Although the plan is the result of a board directive last October, it is not certain whether the new board, which includes a number of new appointees, will act immediately or ask for time to study the plan.

Nonetheless, AQMD Board Chairman Norton Younglove, a Riverside County supervisor, said Monday there is little doubt that the new board will approve the plan in the near future.

"It's an essential. The only other alternative (for achieving clean air) is something I think people would find a great deal more unacceptable. It's called gasoline rationing," Younglove said.

The district will seek authorization from the state Legislature to finance the program through a combination of higher fees charged industrial polluters and a $1 surcharge on motor vehicle registration fees. Permission will also be sought from the state Public Utilities Commission to allow public utilities to pass their clean-fuel costs on to ratepayers. The district estimated the average homeowner's electric bill may increase by 10% to 15%. Matching funds would also be sought from manufacturers, commercial, industrial and transportation fuel users and other government agencies to help finance the demonstration programs.

Methanol Marketing

There have been a number of tentative efforts to hasten the day when methanol is widely accepted as an alternative fuel to power vehicles and industry in the South Coast Air Basin. Arco and Chevron U.S.A., in association with the California Energy Commission, are in the midst of implementing a limited, voluntary trial-marketing of methanol fuel in the state.

The state Air Resources Board has phased in stricter emission controls on cars, trucks and buses and is scheduled next October to further tighten diesel fuel specifications that might speed the conversion to methanol or other cleaner burning fuels. Various public transit agencies have purchased methanol-powered buses on a trial basis to test their viability.

But, the AQMD's clean-burning fuel program represents what the staff said is an integrated approach that ties together all the elements essential to making cleaner fuels a realistic alternative to gasoline and diesel--requirements that fleet operators put cleaner-burning-fueled vehicles on the road along with the development of a clean fuels distribution network. Clean-fuel demonstration programs at industrial sites are intended to show that turbines, boilers and other industrial equipment can be operated on cleaner fuels. Rules requiring the use of such fuels could follow.

Under the AQMD proposal, there would be 13 projects to demonstrate the viability of cleaner-burning fuel in industrial sites. The district has the authority to require that industry participate in such demonstrations. Another 16 demonstration projects are earmarked for vehicular sources to test under realistic conditions the advantages and limitations of vehicles that are powered by electricity, methanol, compressed natural gas or other alternative fuels.

It also will ask board authorization to designate methanol and other so-called clean fuels as the "Best Available Control Technology." Such a designation would allow the district to mandate their use in a variety of applications.

Size of Fleets

Lents said that the clean-fuel fleet program will probably cover government and private fleets of 15 vehicles or more, and include car rental agencies and transit systems.

"I know of nowhere in this country that anyone has proposed a phase-out schedule for diesel fuel," Wuebben said. He said the actual schedule for stationary source phase-outs will be presented to the board by next July.

Rules requiring fleet operators to begin phasing in electric or clean-burning-fueled vehicles will be proposed by September.

An electric vehicle task force is also planned in conjunction with Southern California Edison, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and the Electric Power Research Institute, the Electric Vehicle Development Corp., the state Air Resources Board and the California Energy Commission.

Clean fuels are those that produce less reactive organic gases and lower levels of oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide and particles that can be inhaled than do gasoline and diesel, and are at least as clean as methanol. Thus, it is possible that propane would not qualify as a clean fuel, even though it is marginally cleaner burning than diesel or gasoline.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World