Diesel Retrofit Bill Promises Cleaner Air… and Brings Uncertainty to School Administration

January 2006Alerts Environmental Impact

Acting Governor Codey recently signed Bill No. S-1759, which provides funding for retrofitting vehicles with clean diesel technology. It represents the latest effort to reduce the exposure of children to harmful diesel particulate emissions. A funding source was guaranteed by a Resolution that passed on Election Day in November 2005.

APPLIES TO VEHICLES SERVING THE PUBLIC.

S-1759 applies to diesel-fueled garbage trucks, off-road construction vehicles and, importantly, school buses that:

  • Transport 10 or more passengers;
  • Are owned by a school district, or operated by a contractor who transports for a school district; and
  • Are even owned by, or contracted for, a non-public school district.

The law targets school buses as the first type of vehicles to be retrofitted with cleaner diesel technology, and provides that retrofits must be accomplished within two years for all buses of Model Year 2006 or earlier.

Funding for retrofits of buses and all other vehicles will be reimbursed out of $160 million in dedicated public funds, over ten years. School districts must file an application for reimbursement. Importantly, funds will be awarded based on the date an application is approved, providing an incentive to filing early for faster reimbursement.

CRITICAL SUBSTANTIVE MEASURES.

S-1759 requires:

  1. Standard recordkeeping (inventory of vehicles, maintenance records, two years of fuel purchase records, and in-vehicle documentation);
  2. Retrofits with the "Best Available Retrofit Technology" (BART), which will be established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the California Air Resources Board;
  3. Compliance with New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) rules concerning the application process, available BART technologies and, if BART is not an option, compliance with alternative planning measures – the rules must be adopted by the NJDEP by June 2006; and
  4. Other compliance measures, such as tougher "no idling" enforcement – even if the school district is not the owner or operator of the offending bus.

SUGGESTIONS FOR TODAY.

  • Anticipate the Requirements
    Begin an inventory of regulated school buses, coordinate bus replacement dates and plan for future bus purchases, and speak with all contract-providers to determine how they will comply.
  • Begin Managing Your Potential Liabilities
    Address risk avoidance with care and experience, as districts which fail to act may have parents upset that their children are at risk, drivers upset that they are still breathing in air pollution, and increased liability exposure if health problems become manifest. Doing nothing or doing it haphazardly increases the risk of violations, increases the likelihood of legal liability and, most importantly, puts employees and the public at greater risk.
  • Consider a Consortium
    Draft agreements with other districts to reduce the risks and share overhead, design and consultant costs.
  • Don’t Wait
    Begin seeking Board approval for a consultant now, rather waiting until June 2006.

PLANNING AHEAD.

The Bill raises the following questions for Business Administrators and School Boards:

  • How will the new system impact existing transportation contracts?
  • What retrofits are expected from bus manufacturers, such as tailpipe particulate filters, catalysts and/or crankcase filtration systems?
  • What will the NJDEP’s application process look like?
  • When the NJDEP’s rules are proposed in early 2006, how will they address BART and the alternative planning measures? Should a District comment on proposed rules?
  • How will the NJDEP ensure that warranties on existing engines are not voided, and how will it ensure that the retrofit technologies also have warranties?
  • How will the NJDEP enforce the “no idling” prohibition?

We expect many, if not all, of these questions to be answered in the coming months. Stay tuned!