California's largest clean air agency believes state and federal regulations are moving too slowly to protect public health and has announced a radical plan to force the rapid conversion of thousands of trucks to cleaner fuels.

The proposal from the South Coast Air Quality Management District would require both public fleets and private fleets with government contracts to switch to cleaner fuels when replacing or adding vehicles.
If the plan is approved by the district board in April it would require:
· Operators of 15 or more urban buses to begin purchasing clean-burning vehicles immediately.
· Public fleets and airport fleets of 100 or more vehicles to begin replacing with cleaner vehicles from Jan. 1, 2001.
· Public fleets and airport fleets of 15 or more vehicles to begin replacing with cleaner vehicles from Jan. 1, 2002.
The requirement affects vehicles in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernadino counties. More than 60,000 vehicles are currently operated in government-owned fleets in the area, as well as an undetermined number of vehicles in privately-owned fleets.
While the rule does not ban diesel engines outright, it does require vehicles with equal or lower emissions than methanol vehicles. Today, no diesel engines can meet that level, so operators will be forced to use natural gas, electric, or fuel cell-powered vehicles.
SCAQMD says the radical plan is needed to reduce the cancer threat from vehicle exhaust. The agency says tests it conducted last year showed vehicles were responsible for 90% of the cancer risk posed by air pollutants in the Los Angeles area.
The agency has the authority to regulate emissions from public and private fleets with 15 vehicles or more -- normally a state function -- under an obscure state law.
Both public and private fleet operators have objected to the proposal, saying the additional cost of alternative fuels would be prohibitive. Natural gas engines cost up to 30% more than diesels and there additional costs involved in fuel storage.
While only a small percentage of California's privately-owned trucking fleets are affected, the Calfornia Trucking Assn. loudly opposed the new rule.
CTA's Stephanie Williams says as many as 3,000 privately-owned trucks serving the U.S. Postal Service may be affected and urged the SCAQMD to drop the proposal or face lawsuits.
SCAQMD may also face challenges from the public sector. A provision in the U.S. Clean Air Act may exempt all federal agencies from the local rule.