For the first time ever, an air quality agency has ordered diesel-powered truck fleets to convert to cleaner fuels.

In the latest development in Southern California's continuing battle against what environmentalists characterize as dirty, cancer-causing diesel exhaust, government fleets in the region will have to start buying trucks that use cleaner-burning fuels two years from now.
The measure was approved unanimously Friday by the South Coast Air Quality Management District's governing board. Under the new rule (Rule 1196), government fleets with 15 or more heavy-duty vehicles must buy alternative-fueled, gasoline-powered or dual-fuel models starting July 1, 2002, when new vehicles are purchased.
The rule affects 60 government agencies in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, including fleets such as the California Department of Transportation, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the U.S. Postal Service. Nearly 7,000 trucks fall under the new regulations, including dump trucks, aerial lift trucks and road and highway maintenance vehicles.
A fleet operator can apply for an exemption if they can show that an alternative-fueled vehicle is not commercially available, or, up until 2004, that an alternative fuel station is more than 5 miles away.
Although the new rules will most heavily affect Los Angeles, the LA City Council decided to support the regulations after the air quality agency promised to help find money to help subsidize the conversion. Last week, the council directed city staff to develop an alternative fuel maintenance and fueling plan, and freed up $200,000 to hire a consultant to help the city coordinate its effort to fight diesel fumes. In addition, the council also took steps to identify possible funding for the anti-pollution effort, which could come from the state and federal governments as well as the South Coast AQMD.
In 1999, the South Coast AQMD reported that diesel-fuel emissions are responsible for an estimated 70 percent of all toxic air pollutants in the greater Los Angeles area.
The action nearly completes adoption of a series of clean fleet rules for public agencies in the region designed to reduce diesel emissions, according to the agency. AQMD's Board has adopted seven of eight of the rules. Rules adopted earlier this year targeted vehicles such as garbage trucks and public transit buses. Last month, the agency approved a measure requiring diesel fuel produced or imported into the area to be limited to no more than 15 parts per million of sulfur, starting in 2005.