Voinovich amendment authorizes $1 billion over five years.

As the Senate moved closer to a floor vote on an energy policy package, lawmakers added an amendment to authorize $1 billion over five years to help cover the costs of retrofitting old diesel engines on construction equipment, buses and other vehicles to curb harmful emissions.

The amendment, proposed by Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), was approved June 21 on a 92-1 vote. It would provide $200 million a year in grants and loans. Voinovich says 20% of the money would go to states. State could share another 10% of the total if they put up their own funds to match the federal aid.

The other 70% would be administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which would have to direct at least half of its overall allotment to local transit authorities and other public agencies that own diesel vehicles. All the authorized funds would be subject to annual appropriations, however.

Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.), a supporter of the Voinovich plan, says EPA "Tier 2" regulations requiring cleaner diesel engines take effect next year. But those rules only apply to new engines. Voinovich's plan is designed to cut pollution from engines already in use.

The cost of retrofits would vary widely, Caterpillar officials say. Adding pollution-control equipment to a skid steer loader could cost about $800, but on the other end of the scale, changing out the engine on a big, multi-million-dollar scraper could cost $15,000, they say.

After the Senate clears the underlying energy measure--a vote is expected June 23 or 24--the fate of Voinovich's amendment would rest in a conference with the House, whose energy bill doesn't have the diesel retrofit provision.

A plus for Voinovich's proposal is the unusually broad support it has. Among those backing the amendment are: the Associated General Contractors, Caterpillar Inc., Cummins Inc., administrators of state and local air pollution control agencies and Environmental Defense.

(Photo by the office of Sen. George Voinovich)