NEW YORK, N.Y. ---- A new study, released by environmental group INFORM, recommends that New York City adopt policy measures to help transition its trash collection contractors to cleaner, quieter fleets powered by natural gas instead of diesel. INFORM urged the city to take such steps before finalizing its 20-year Solid Waste Management Plan. New York’s commercial waste-hauling sector operates more than 3,600 trucks – about 1,400 more than the city’s own Department of Sanitation fleet. INFORM offered a number of measures that might give these contractors incentive to clean up their fleets. These included having the Business Integrity Commission reduce its licensing fee for alternative fuel trucks, or offsetting costs through tax rebates, operating flexibility or a modified rate structure. The city could also provide preferential treatment for natural gas trucks at city-controlled transfer stations, and incorporate natural gas refueling into city plans for retrofitting transfer stations, the study said. INFORM also recommended that the Solid Waste Management Plan take measures to reduce emissions of all commercial waste hauling fleets. Moreover, the study urged the city to monitor fleet on-road performance, air emissions and noise levels and to release those findings to the public. The study emphasized that natural gas trucks are becoming more economically competitive. “Up to now, natural gas trucks have cost approximately $40,000 to $50,000 more than diesel trucks and for fleets making the shift, there may be further costs in modifying garages and maintenance facilities and in training workers. However, the cost of diesel trucks is already increasing by as much as $10,000 to $12,000 because of changes required in the vehicles to meet the 2007 standards, and operating these cleaner diesel vehicles will further increase their costs,” the study said. “Meanwhile, the federal government, in line with its goal of promoting cleaner alternative fuel vehicles, has established a program of federal tax credits that will mitigate most of the incremental costs of natural gas trucks.” The 2005 Energy Policy Act introduces credits that can cover up to $32,000 (maximum of 80 percent) of the incremental costs of natural gas trucks and up to $30,000 of the cost of a new fueling station. The price of natural gas fuel has remained less expensive than diesel at the pump. What’s more, the 2005 Highway Bill provides a new federal excise tax credit equal to 50 cents per gasoline gallon equivalent of alternative fuel (partially offset by a hike in the tax rate for alternative fuels). New federal air pollution standards set for engines sold in 2007, along with tighter standards in 2010, are also expected to increase fuel consumption by diesel trucks because of demands of aftermarket treatment technology. The INFORM study is titled, “New York City’s Commercial Waste Hauling Fleets: An Opportunity for New York City to Ensure Cleaner, Quieter Waste Collection Operations.” In the past four years, the number of natural gas garbage trucks in the U.S. has more than doubled, according to INFORM's researchers. Nearly 700 natural gas garbage trucks operate today. By 2010, INFORM projects that more than 2,200 natural gas garbage trucks will be on American roadways. These vehicles alone will displace about 476,000 million barrels of oil each year.