Funding for emissions reduction projects could get boost under proposed rule

Source: Sean Reilly, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Federal Highway Administration is seeking public feedback on its proposed handling of a congressionally required change aimed at steering more money into projects to cut fine particulate air emissions.

The Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement Program is now supposed to give funding priority to areas designated as being in “nonattainment” for maintenance of air quality standards for such particulate matter, often referred to as PM2.5, according to MAP-21, the highway and transit funding law enacted two years ago.

For states, that means that one-quarter of their respective CMAQ allotments “attributed to PM2.5 nonattainment” must be used for projects to reduce particulate emissions in those areas based on their “weighted population,” the highway administration said in a notice of proposed rulemaking published in today’s Federal Register. Those projects, for example, could include retrofits of diesel-powered highway construction equipment.

But MAP-21, short for Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, did not spell out the exact “weighting factor” to be used in determining the amount of the set-aside. The higher the weighting factor, the more money has to be dedicated to PM2.5 reduction projects.

As an interim step, the highway administration is using a weighting factor of 1.2 for PM2.5 areas. The proposed regulations would increase that factor to 5.0, a step the agency justifies both on the severity of the health effects of fine particulate emissions and Congress’ interest in reducing them. The proposed changes would not affect states’ overall share of CMAQ money and would result in “only modest differences” in the amount set aside for PM2.5 reduction, the agency said in the notice.

At the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which represents state and local regulators, “We’re still looking at the impact of the proposal,” Executive Director Bill Becker said in a phone interview. But to the extent that it will appropriate more money to address fine particulates — which are responsible for 30,000 to 40,000 deaths per year — “it seems like a very important step to take,” Becker said.

The CMAQ program, created in 1991, has a budget of about $2.2 billion this year.

The deadline for public comment on the proposed rule is Oct. 3.