Southern California's air quality agency has voted to require government owned or contracted truck and bus fleets to begin using cleaner-burning alternative fuels, such as those powered by natural gas.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District unanimously approved the new rules, believed to be the first of their kind in the nation, after a contentious three-hour meeting Friday.

The rules will affect a total of 5,000 trash trucks, 4,000 buses and 60,000 passenger cars. Except for the big articulated buses, which can still be diesel-powered, the new rules prohibit the purchase of new diesel buses by public agencies in the area. The rules go into effect immediately for agencies with more than 100 buses. Fleets of 15 to 99 buses have until July 1, 2001.
Public and private refuse haulers with more than 50 garbage trucks will be forced to buy alternative fuel vehicles starting July 1, 2001. Smaller operators have until 2002.
A third rule requires new cars and light and medium duty trucks added to government fleets of 15 or more to meet new state low-emission standards.
Engine manufacturers have said they will fight the rules unless cleaner-burning diesel is added to the list of allowable fuels. Glenn Keller, executive director of the Chicago-based Engine Manufacturers Association, said in a statement following the decision, "EMA and its members are actively pursuing dramatic improvements in the emission performance of heavy-duty diesel
fueled engines. EMA believes that the best course of action is to develop a level playing field based on setting low emission targets that allow fleet operators the choice of the most cost-effective technologies – regardless of fuel type."
He also said the air quality agency is exceeding its authority, going beyond boundaries established in the federal Clean Air Act. "These federal safeguards were established to prevent every air district from developing unique vehicle requirements that would lead to a ‘patchwork quilt’ of different rules and limitations across the state."
The air quality agency's 12-member board agreed to study whether reduced-sulfur diesel has lower cancer-causing potential, and may add it to the list if that is the case, reports the AP.
Congress has allowed the state of California to be only one to set air-quality standards stricter than Washingon's because of its smog problems. As soon as California sets the standards, other states will be free to adopt them, and some have done so in recent years.
Manufacturers have said they will increase production of natural gas engines, which would cost considerably more than diesel engines. However, they say the costs would be quickly recovered by the differences fuel prices.