We're used to seeing big rigs on the freeways every day, it's just a normal sight in Houston. So is the cloud of black smoke that puffs out of the exhaust pipe on those trucks. That smoke translates to a whole lot of particulate matter and nitrogen oxides released into the air. The Houston-Galveston Area Council's Air Quality Program Manager Shelley Whitworth says over the past four years they've helped a number of companies and school districts upgrade their fleets to green technology.
"At this point, we've accomplished or reduced over 900 tons per year of NOx emissions and that's pretty considerable amount of reductions. And we're hoping that will help us get us where we need to be with respect to our air quality situation."
Trucking companies have a 2007 deadline to upgrade 80 percent of their fuel use to a cleaner diesel that's now on the market. Ed Pritchard is the Vice President of Silver Eagle Distribution. He says they've been upgrading their fleet for the past decade, but smaller companies are scrambling to meet the criteria.
"There's a lot of smaller operators out there that don't have the support or the time right to get fully involved in clean air initiatives like this. And really that's something that we're going to have to target as we go forward and hopefully bring them into the fold."
Pritchard says Silver Eagle has had success with switching to e85 as an alternative to gasoline and they've just ventured into compressed natural gas in some of their delivery trucks. But small companies and family operations don't have the resources to experiment with the newest technology.
"It was important to us in the beginning, you know, to try to get ahead of the curve on some of this because of the size of our fleet. On, you know, some of the smaller businesses out there I think it's probably a good idea for them to look at some of the technologies that we've implemented here locally, not just our fleet, but Houston Independent School District, City of Houston has done a lot of work as well. So there's a lot to be learned by fleets like ours that have kind of paved the path for everyone else."
The H-GAC held a day-long conference for fleet managers to discuss innovations in clean fuel and engines. They're also distributing information about state and local grants to help fleet owners retro-fit and upgrade their trucks to meet emissions standards. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.