Advocacy group stirs up diesel issue

Advocacy group stirs up diesel issue

Clean Air Task Force report warns of diesel engine emissions

The Clean Air Task Force (CATF), a Boston-based environmental lobbying group, has published a report that concludes diesel engine pollutants will be responsible for 21,000 premature deaths annually in 2010 and therefore is pushing federal and local government to take action on emission controls for existing municipal, vocational and highway fleets.

The report, named “Diesel and Health in America: The Lingering Threat”, has received a sizable share of media coverage, having been reported today in major metropolitan newspapers such as The New York Times, The Chicago Sun-Times, and The Los Angeles Times.

The report does acknowledge the new emissions regulations for heavy-truck engines going into effect in 2007. However, existing on-road vehicles, construction and farm vehicles will continue “the dirty diesel legacy,” CATF said.

“Considering that according to the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) the median lifetime for a heavy truck is nearly 30 years, and a typical heavy-duty diesel engine may power a truck for as long as 1.5 million miles, these vehicles will continue to pollute our air at unnecessarily high levels for years to come unless we act to clean them up now,” according to the CATF report.

Highway diesel engines emitted 100,000 tons of “directly-emitted fine particles” in 2002, which comprise a third of the total from diesels, CATF said.

CATF has advised cities and states to:

  • push retrofit initiatives
  • require ultra-low-sulfur diesel and cleaner alternative fuels
  • adopt engine rebuild and replacement requirements
  • expand truckstop electrification programs
  • contract specifications requiring cleanup of trucks used in public works projects
  • adopt diesel cleanup measures as federally enforceable requirements in State Implementation Plans to comply with the Clean Air Act
  • create and fund programs for diesel equipment owners to replace or rebuild engines

    CATF has advised the Federal government to:

  • pass legislation to provide funding for clean up of municipal and state fleet vehicles
  • explore regulatory options for reducing emissions from existing interstate fleets
  • retain and enforce the tighter new engine and cleaner fuel standards for highway and non-road diesels

    CATF said its study uses a methodology approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Science Advisory Board to single out the health toll from diesel pollutants.

    CATF’s Diesel Initiative is backed by The John Merck Fund, The Heinz Foundation, The Beldon Fund, The New York Community Trust, and The Turner Foundation.

    The Diesel Technology Forum (DTF), a lobbying group that represents diesel engine manufacturers, stated the industry has been working toward cleaner emission standards. DTF also affirmed its support for making clean engine technologies available for older engines.

    “DTF has been working with the EPA and other stakeholders, including some environmental groups, for nearly five years to expand the agency’s voluntary retrofit program and identify new sources of incentive finding,” DTF stated in a release. “More than 160,000 retrofits have occurred thanks to these and other efforts.”

    Allen Schaeffer, DTF executive director, said the findings of the CATF report appear to be exaggerated.

    “These health risk assessments are based on EPA’s health risk assessment and the last time it was done was in 2000,” Schaeffer told Fleet Owner. “That model was based on some studies that looked at truck technology and railroads from the ‘50s and ‘60s to figure out the health risk from diesel emissions. A lot of things has changed in 50 years.”

    Additionally Schaeffer questioned the validity of DOE data used in the report to assume that the median lifetime for a heavy truck is 28 years, when that number was determined in 1990.

    “I think EPA now typically uses an estimation that a fleet turns over roughly every 13 to 15 years,” Schaeffer said. “If you think about what’s happened with the economy since 1990, with companies investing in new trucks and engines, it raises a red flag.”

    However, with the report getting substantial media exposure, there is little chance the concerns raised by CATF will quietly go away.

    “I think [the report] opens up another chapter of discussion,” Schaffer said. “Since for so long there has been a focus solely on new engines, new engine technologies and emissions standards, this clearly shifts that dynamic onto looking at what happens with vehicles that are already out in the field. This study is going to get people to think about these issues a little differently, and that’s an issue this industry has to wrestle with.

    “The diesel engine industry really wants to provide the right kind of solutions for its customers,” he continued. “We’re going to roll out the most advanced and cleanest diesel technology in the world for the 2006 deadline. That’s first and foremost on our minds, and this report reminds us that this technology could be also be used on existing equipment and now we have environmental groups calling for it. There needs to be some discussion on this for the end users.”

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