State air regulators found an extra $3 million Wednesday to help more Port of Oakland truckers buy new diesel filters for their rigs, but that did not stop more than 450 independent drivers from filing a lawsuit to block a state-mandated emissions deadline that will put them out of work on New Year's Day.

Approximately 1,200 mostly independent drivers who haul cargo in and out of the port will not be able to enter the gates starting Friday. They applied for grant funds to install new diesel filters on their rigs but were rejected because a $22 million pot to help them ran out.

The new port truck rule passed by the California Air Resources Board in December 2007 set a Jan. 1, 2010, deadline for all large diesel trucks serving California's ports and intermodal rail yards to reduce diesel emissions. The rule bans trucks manufactured before 1994 and requires new soot filters on others to reduce by 85 percent the amount of dangerous particulate emissions generated by dirty diesel engines. The tiny particles can lodge in the lungs and cause asthma, cancer and other health problems.

The $22 million covered 1,000 grant applications — fewer than half of those who applied. About 200 drivers got $50,000 grants toward the purchase of a new truck. The rest got grants to buy new diesel filters that cost up to $21,000 each.

The newly found money will be used to award $5,000 grants to approximately 580 truckers — not nearly enough to go around and well short of actual filter costs.

The lawsuit filed late Wednesday in U.S. Northern District Court against the state of California, Air Resources Board, regional air district, the city of Oakland and the port also seeks a preliminary injunction to suspend the new truck rules until funding is found for all the drivers, said Lakhbir Bhambra, vice president of the Northern California Rail and Port Truckers Association. Representatives of the Air Board had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment.

The petition cites the harm caused to the drivers by the deadline and alleges a breach of contract by the state to provide grants to the truckers. The petition also alleges that large trucking companies were favored over independent drivers in awarding the grants. Drivers who wish to apply for the $5,000 grants will have a short, five-day window starting Monday to visit the OT-411 trucker information center and tell air district representatives if they are interested. To qualify, the drivers must have been eligible for a grant but turned down for lack of funds. They must also prove that they can secure the remainder of the cost to purchase and install a new filter.

The whole process will take several weeks, during which time the drivers will not be able to use their trucks at the port. Once they get a new grant they can apply for an extension, but the extensions are good only until April 30 to coincide with the deadline for truckers who are stuck in a months-long backlog waiting for their filters to be installed.

The sudden appearance of $3 million did little to appease drivers who will be unemployed Friday and are now being told they must go through the arduous grant application process all over again, especially when there won't be enough money to go around. Some, assured previously by local and state air officials that there was no more money to help them, borrowed from friends and family and whoever else they could to buy new filters.

"All these guys are living paycheck to paycheck already," said Dominick Lee, vice president of VA Transportation in West Oakland. "Once you cut off their paycheck they'll have no means to make their trucks compliant."

Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums' staff has been working with state and federal officials to try and secure additional funding for the retrofits since the truckers held a rally outside City Hall this month to publicize their plight. Dellums pledged Wednesday to keep searching for more money and relief for the truckers.

"This announcement is a significant step in the right direction. ... I am deeply appreciative of the state's and local air district's continued efforts to partner with our city," Dellums said in a news release.

The truck grant program was confusing from the start. Drivers applied in 2008 only to be told that there was no money because of the state budget crisis. The program started up again this spring, and by summer drivers were lined up day after day to fill out applications and provide required information to qualify for the grants.

Representatives from the air district accepted applications until Sept. 10, but few who applied later than May got any money. The new funds have been reallocated from other projects earmarked for Prop 1B state transportation bonds at the request of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the mayor's office.

"In response to the request for a last-minute reprieve, the Air Resources Board and the air district scoured all existing funds and were able to come up with an additional increment to ease the cost of compliance with this important public health rule," said Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols.

The economy has caused a decline in the amount of cargo passing through the Port of Oakland. Despite fewer truckers being able to access the Port starting next month, officials there have said previously they do not expect any disruption in service.

Reach Cecily Burt at 510-208-6441. Check out her blog at www.ibabuzz.com/westside.