Port authorities are pushing for Congress to reauthorize a five-year program that provides them with millions of dollars of federal grants.

The American Association of Port Authorities sent a letter to all members of the Senate last week asking them to renew the program — the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act — that provides grants for projects to cut emissions at ports.

The DERA was created in 2005 as part of the Energy Policy Act, and one of its main goals was to reduce emissions from older diesel engines, including those at ports.

The act allows $200 million to be distributed on a competitive basis each year in grants and loans by states and the federal government. Ports must compete for funding against other diesel emissions producers such as school buses, according to the AAPA.

Ports have received millions of dollars from the program so far, the group said. The recipients use the grants in conjunction with their own matching funds.

The program is set to expire at the end of fiscal 2011, which is Sept. 30.

Port facilities have issued $1.25 billion of bonds so far this year, according to Thomson Reuters.

A bill to reauthorize the DERA was introduced Nov. 18 by retiring Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee's transportation and infrastructure panel.

The full committee is scheduled to vote on the bill Tuesday.

The AAPA was among hundreds of groups, including state port authorities, that sent a similar letter in September to Voinovich and Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., urging them to reauthorize the program. The two senators authored the 2005 legislation that was approved almost unanimously by the Senate.

If members of Congress approve Voinovich's bill, the program would be authorized to continue making grants or loans totaling as much as $200 million each fiscal year from 2012 through 2016.

However, those funds would be subject to congressional appropriations, which have come under fire by Republicans who will take over control of the House next year.

Ports that receive DERA funds currently use them to retrofit ships, rail locomotive engines, and cargo-handling equipment, according to AAPA spokesman Aaron Ellis.

They also use them to provide power for ships and to buy lower-emissions trucks and equipment, he said.

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