The California Air Resources Board (CARB), the state's lead agency on climate change programs, will consider a $483 million funding plan for clean transportation incentives, including natural gas heavy duty engine technologies.

CARB is expected to act on the changes when its board meets Oct. 25-26. The funding includes $455 million in low carbon transportation investments and $28.64 million for the Air Quality Improvement Program.

CARB spokesperson Melanie Turner said staff is recommending that the board make several changes to low nitrogen oxide (NOx) engine incentives, with the goal of increasing the effectiveness of its low NOx vouchers in expanding the engine market in the $125 million Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP).

"We think there is a real opportunity to encourage fleets to repower existing natural gas vehicle (NGV) engines with a low NOx engine, rather than the current practice of re-building old engines," Turner said. CARB has proposed increasing HVIP repower voucher amounts from $10,000 to $45,000 per engine, applying to all fleets, including transit buses and refuse trucks.

CARB will also consider modestly increasing the 12-liter low-NOx engine voucher for new vehicles from $40,000 to $45,000. For new 9-liter sized engines, the HVIP incentives are aimed at getting diesel fleet operators to switch to the new low-NOx engines available in that size.

"Key markets that we expect to take advantage of this increased incentive include cement mixers and regional delivery trucks," Turner said.

Transit and refuse fleets would no longer be eligible for new purchase vouchers through HVIP, but they will still have access to funding sources for new purchases through other programs, such as CARB's Carl Moyer Program, an air quality focused effort for achieving emissions reductions.

NGVAmerica President Daniel Gage emphasized that "we have a product that was recently recertified in 2018 [CARB and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency], so our product is ready right now." He acknowledged that some major fleet operators and transit agencies prefer an 'all-of-the-above' approach to clean transportation -- mixing NGVs, propane, electric and diesel technologies.

Gage cites the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit District as a major transit operator that has tried different alternatives, but more recently has decided to focus on converting its fleet to natural gas. Another metropolitan transit system in Albuquerque, NM, decided a few years ago to go all-electric only to decide that wasn't working and is now using biofuel and natural gas.

"Others are deploying electric, but not across their entire fleets," Gage said. "We're not suggesting that operators should not try everything; we have really strong advocates for NGVs, such as UPS, which does propane, electric and biodiesel, too. They do it all."

NGVAmerica is asking government policymakers to provide a "level playing field" by not mandating a particular clean fuel technology over all others.

"Fifty to 100 years from now, there will be a lot of benefits from electric vehicles and hydrogen, but it will take an awful long time to build that out," Gage said. "We don't think people ought to stop searching for alternative fuels and technology, but we have a technology with natural gas that is efficient, cost-effective, clean, and available now.