The budget that will be submitted to Congress on Monday by President Barack Obama contains cuts for two clean-vehicle programs: retrofits that reduce diesel emissions from heavy trucks and other commercial vehicles, and research funds for hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.
Whether those cuts will survive the budgeting process remains to be seen.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Diesel Program had been funded at $80 million in 2010, and it was reauthorized last December by Congress for five years at a cost of $500 million.
Diesel-powered trucks, buses, and construction equipment made before 2007 are some of the highest-emission vehicles in use. Many of them have their engines running constantly during the day, and their emissions are essentially uncontrolled.
The retrofits are considered highly cost-effective, with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson admitting that every dollar spent eliminates $12 to $13 in future public-health costs. The funds reimburse local governments for costs they incur fitting better emissions-control equipment to those vehicles.
Jackson called the cuts "one of the tough decisions we had to make," though $100 million in funding for the retrofits through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act currently remains to be spent.
President Obama inspects the 2011 Chevrolet Volt
Obama's budget also zeroes out the Department of Energy's hydrogen fuel-cell research budget, which received 2010 funding of $49 million. As automakers switched focus from fuel cells to plug-in vehicles, the Government had reduced its commitment to that research from a 2006 high of $84 million.
The world's automakers plan to build more than 300,000 plug-in vehicles during the 2013 model year, including the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt. But production of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles that same year will be measurable in the dozens--at most perhaps in the hundreds.
Putting 1 million plug-in vehicles on U.S. roads by 2015 has been a consistent theme both of Obama's 2008 campaign for president and his Administration's policies. He reiterated that goal in his January State of the Union address.