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Transportation Nation

Old Diesel Equipment Still Spewing Soot Into Pittsburgh's Air

Thursday, March 07, 2013

(photo by Emily DeMarco/Public Source)

(Emily DeMarco, PublicSource) Morry Feldman downs two horse pills with breakfast. Then, he uses four different sprays. Two puffs into the mouth. Two into the nose. Repeat at dinner.

Feldman, 59, has severe asthma and allergies. And Pittsburgh is among the worst places he could live or work because of the region’s poor air quality.

“If I miss a dose, I start to get sick,” said Feldman, a senior account executive at WQED Multimedia.

Morry Feldman, who has severe asthma and allergies, and people like him are among the most vulnerable to 'dirty diesel' emissions. (Photo by Emily DeMarco/PublicSource)

Feldman is one of nearly 97,000 adults in Allegheny County with asthma.

The county received F’s in the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2012 study.

Among the reasons cited by experts for the region’s poor air quality: diesel fumes.

The Pittsburgh City Council passed a local law in 2011 requiring construction companies to retrofit equipment that runs on diesel fuel in order to reduce emissions. But, to date, no dozers, diggers or dump trucks have had to comply.

Called the Clean Air Act of 2010, the local law focused on construction sites that received public dollars. If the development’s budget was larger than $2.5 million and it received at least $250,000 in public subsidies, it would have to retrofit a percentage of its diesel equipment.

Regulations for the ordinance haven’t been finalized, making it unenforceable.

Supporters of the ordinance have cried foul.

“If we truly want to be the most livable city, we have to contend with our air pollution,” said Rachel Filippini, the executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution, known as GASP. “And one way to do that is to clean up construction vehicles.”

GASP was part of a coalition of health, environmental, faith, industry, and labor organizations that helped to draft the legislation.

Small, but deadly

The Environmental Protection Agency has set standards for new diesel engines, but it’s the old engines that produce what’s known as ‘dirty diesel’ fumes. A typical diesel engine has a life span of 20 to 30 years.

It is widely accepted that dirty diesel exhaust contains tiny particles of soot, also known as black carbon. And that the smallest of these particles can go straight into the bloodstream and are linked to cancer, asthma and stroke.

In addition, the diesel exhaust contains nitrogen oxides, which, when released into the atmosphere on hot days, create ozone, a powerful irritant that can cause chemical burns in the lungs.

Children, the elderly, and people with chronic lung and heart conditions are among the most vulnerable to dirty diesel’s impact. And the workers who operate diesel equipment are the first to breathe the harmful emissions.

An operator uses an excavator to move debris on the Bakery Square 2.0 construction site. Equipment operators are among the first to breathe diesel emissions. (Photo by Emily DeMarco/PublicSource)

The city council passed the local legislation requiring developers to curb diesel emissions, in part, because Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods are densely packed, with schools and playgrounds often near construction sites.

If the legislation had been in effect, one construction site that would need to comply would be Bakery Square 2.0, a development on Penn Ave. that broke ground in January 2013. The $100-million project is the sister site to Bakery Square 1.0, home to Google’s Pittsburgh offices, high-end shops and a hotel.

Demolition of Bakery Square 2.0's existing structures is underway. Flags wave in the wind on top of Bakery Square 1.0. (Photo by Emily DeMarco/PublicSource)

With the help of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and the Urban Redevelopment Authority, according to a press release from the mayor’s office, the development was awarded about $2 million in federal funds. The development was recently awarded $4 million from the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett.

The Bakery Square 2.0 construction site borders Mellon Park and The Ellis School, an all-girls academy. Diesel equipment demolishes a vacant building close to the park and school. (Photo by Emily DeMarco/PublicSource)

The girls at the Ellis School who have asthma could be directly affected by the diesel emissions while Bakery Square 2.0 construction is underway, said Dr. Fernando Holguin, the assistant director at the University of Pittsburgh’s Asthma Institute.

“Maybe some children will wheeze a little more...and some kids may end up in hospital,” Dr. Holguin said.

Representatives from the project’s development company, Walnut Capital, did not return phone calls or emails requesting comment. A representative from The Ellis School said she didn't know enough about the ordinance to comment.

Just a piece of paper

‘Clean construction’ laws have sprouted across the country. Pittsburgh’s was modeled after New York City’s version, called Local Law 77.

New York’s version passed in 2003 and took about a year to implement. It also required convincing industry officials that the retrofits wouldn’t cause warranties to be voided or engines to explode, said Gerry Kelpin of that city’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Kelpin’s team is in charge of enforcing the law.

City leadership, including The New York City Council and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, strongly supported the law, Kelpin said.

Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto, who was the main sponsor of the ordinance, gave a copy of New York City’s regulations to Pittsburgh’s Law Department.

Meetings concerning the regulations to implement the ordinance have been going on for more than a year, according to Peduto’s office.

However, the regulations have not been finalized, said Daniel Regan, Pittsburgh’s solicitor.

Regan said they are waiting to hear from Peduto’s office. Peduto is running for mayor to replace Ravenstahl.

“We weren’t involved, nor were we asked to be involved, in drafting the legislation,” Regan said, adding they they thought it was important for the sponsors to review it.

When PublicSource asked about the implementation of the ordinance at a public event, Ravenstahl declined to comment.

Doug Anderson, the deputy city controller whose inspectors will be in charge of enforcing the retrofitting requirements, said his inspectors haven’t been trained.

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, co-sponsor of the ordinance, said she hopes the regulations are written as soon as possible.

“Until it’s implemented, it’s just words on a page,” said Rudiak, who is running for re-election.

Rudiak said she has a list of ordinances that council passed that haven’t been implemented by this administration.

“At the end of the day, I want to make sure the public is aware of what’s really going on out there, and they can be the judge of how they feel about it,” she said.

According to Pittsburgh’s City Code, any ordinance that isn’t vetoed by the mayor, automatically becomes law; the Clean Air Act of 2010 was signed by Ravenstahl.

But in order for the law to be enforceable, rules need to be drafted.

The dirty diesel regulations have been in the works for more than a year.

“That’s a long time,” said Denise Rousseau, a professor of public policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College.

Rousseau, who was speaking about the role of elected leaders in implementing laws and not about any specific instance, suggested that the reasons for the delay might include an administrative backlog, logistical problems coming up with enforceable rules or pressure from an external source.

An undue burden?

Construction industry representatives, who were at the table during the drafting of the law, warned that retrofitting requirements might block small construction companies from doing business in Pittsburgh.

The Heinz Endowments, whose Breathe Project works with government and industry for cleaner air, contributed to an existing Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) fund to help small contractors retrofit their equipment. (The Heinz Endowments also supports PublicSource.)

“It was a way to help small contractors to still be competitive under a new requirement,” said Caren Glotfelty, senior director of The Heinz Endowments’ Environment Program.

A new piece of diesel equipment is a huge investment for companies, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Besides buying new equipment, companies can replace the engine, swap parts in the engine, or attach a filter to retrofit. Each option must be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Not all machines have solutions,” said Jason Koss.

Koss is the director of industry relations for the Constructors Association of Western Pennsylvania. About 15 members of the trade association have already retrofitted their equipment using money from the ACHD, he said.

Koss said there are always costs associated with new regulations.

Supporters of the law said opportunities to make the air cleaner are being lost.

And for people like Feldman, the costs of the region’s poor air quality are tangible.

Feldman, one of Dr. Holguin’s patients, developed asthma and allergies during his early 50s. But he hasn’t has an asthma attack for about four years because he regularly takes his medication.

The meds cost about $150 a month, even with health insurance through WQED. (The public broadcasting network is a news partner of PublicSource.)

Morry Feldman takes a cocktail of medications each day that allow him to live and work in a region with poor air quality. (Photo by Emily DeMarco/PublicSource)

Filippini, of GASP, said that doing nothing about the diesel air pollution may seem like the cheaper and easier thing to do, but the health and environmental costs are great. Children miss school because of asthma attacks; parents miss work to stay home with sick children. There are also more emergency room visits, and higher insurance premiums.

Pittsburgh has come a long way from its ‘smoky city’ image, Filippini said, adding that this law is a tangible step the city can take to clean up regional air pollution.

“It is a way that they can be a leader,” she said.

Reach Emily DeMarco at 412-315-0262 or edemarco@publicsource.org.

Correction: This story originally said that Councilman Bill Peduto is running for mayor against Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. Ravenstahl is not running for another term.

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Transportation Nation

Chicago Wants to Pay Diesel Truckers to Swap for Electric Vehicles

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

(photo by Steve Rhode via flickr)

(Lauren Chooljian - Chicago, WBEZ) Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to make a deal with diesel truck owners in the Chicagoland area: give up your truck, and the city will give you a voucher that covers around 60 percent of the cost of a new electric one.

Officials say the project could help with air quality and even quieter streets across the city. By next spring, fleets in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties will be able to apply for the program.

“The city is encouraging companies to invest in electric vehicles in order to incrementally improve Chicago’s air quality while helping to advance these emerging transportation technologies,” Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein said in a statement. “By offering a voucher at the point of sale, rather than as a post-sale rebate, we hope that more companies will be encouraged to participate in the program.”

But not all drivers are jumping at the chance to trade in their truck. Phil LaPalermo, co-owner of All Ways Paving and Plowing, says he's not sure there's an electrical vehicle out there that can compare to the power of a diesel truck. LaPalermo said he likes the idea of using alternative energy sources, but the diesel engine is what keeps his fleet plowing and paving streets all over the city and suburbs.

"We’re hauling a lot of weight, and we’re making a lot of runs throughout the day. They’re very dependable and you get high mileage. I mean a diesel engine, you could get three to 400 thousand miles on a diesel engine," he said.

Samantha Bingham, CDOT Environmental Policy Analyst, said while the plan might not work for plows or pavement trucks, it would be great for a bakery delivery truck.

"There is no silver bullet when it comes to alternative fuels or traditional fuels," Bingham said.

Chicago Department of Transportation officials said they have enough federal funding to support about 250 vouchers to start. According to Joe Schwieterman, transportation professor from DePaul University, the city would need a couple thousand or so to really make a statistical change on emissions.

"At the same time, I think the city's going to show that we're this Midwest Rust Belt town, and we're gonna adopt technologies that you know other cities in the region aren't doing," Schwieterman said.

City Hall has used federal funding for other green initiatives in the past, including the installment of 202 electric vehicle charging stations.

Listen to the radio story below.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Transpo Bill Differences Heat Up, Gridlock Reigns Over NYC Skies, LeBron James Bikes To Work

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Top stories on TN: a California lawmaker wants to put high-speed rail back on that state's ballot. For the first time ever, NYC gets a subway map that actually shows what trains are running late at night when three lines shut down. And: Why do some cities get car share while others don't?

(photo by Theo La Photo via flickr)

Amtrak funding, ANWR drilling, and the Keystone XL pipeline are shaping up to be the major differences between the House and Senate versions of the transportation bills. (Politico)

And: the House Republican version would spend about $260 billion over the next four and a half years -- and substantially increase the size of trucks permitted on highways. (AP)

NJ Governor Chris Christie defended recommending 50 people — including dozens with ties to his administration — for Port Authority jobs. (The Record)

Gridlock reigns in the skies over New York City. (USA Today)

Sam LaHood -- son of U.S. DOT head Ray LaHood -- is being sheltered in the U.S. embassy in Cairo after Egypt barred him from leaving the country. (Los Angeles Times)

The auto industry is taking a second look at diesel engines. (NPR)

A recent New York law designed to speed infrastructure projects will be put to the test on the Tappan Zee Bridge. (Bloomberg/BusinessWeek)

A 2010 federal audit of Atlanta's transit system raised safety concerns that included the death of a passenger, faulty third rail indicator lights, and a near miss between a train and a work vehicle in a rail yard. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The NYC intersection where a 12-year-old was recently struck and killed by a minivan has a shorter crossing time than 20 major intersections across the city. (DNA Info)

Why are Chinatown buses so popular? Riders liken it more to an "attractive cultural experience than to an objective travel choice." (Atlantic Cities)

A NY State Senator -- who has made the city's rodent problem one of his biggest issues -- wants to ban eating on subways. (WABC)

Olympic organizers want Londoners to change their travel patterns during the games to ease the strain on public transit. One recommendation: stop and have a beer on your way home from work. (Washington Post)

A program that uses police pace cars to reduce traffic congestion on Colorado's Interstate 70 in the mountains this winter was suspended after too many skiers and other mountain visitors jammed the highway, creating a bottleneck. (The Republic)

LeBron James: basketball player, bike commuter. '"You guys drove here?" James said to reporters after the game. "You guys are crazy."' (Wall Street Journal)

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Transportation Nation

California's Diesel Decade

Thursday, January 12, 2012

photo by Shani Aviram

One of the expenses truckers face is paying to upgrade their rigs to meet new environmental emissions regulations for diesel engines. California has the strictest gasoline emissions regulations in the country. The "smog check" is a consuming ritual known to every Californian. Until very recently, diesel engines on freight trucks – big rigs that haul almost everything we buy in and out of ports and across the country – haven’t been under the same rules. Now, that’s starting to change.

In 2010, the California Air Resources Board created a new set of emissions regulations for diesel engines. On a rolling basis, freight trucks are required to retrofit older engines, or to buy completely new trucks to meet stricter emissions standards. While those requirements can be expensive for truckers, so are the environmental impacts.

KALW’s Julie Caine sat down to talk with Rob Harley, professor of environmental engineering at U.C. Berkeley about how the new regulations are changing the air we breathe.

Listen to the interview here

JULIE CAINE: Can you just summarize the changes in regulations, the effects on port truckers?

ROB HARLEY: There’s been a lot of effort in the last couple of years to take steps to clean up the emissions from port trucks. Some of the oldest trucks, built before 1994, are no longer able to be at the port. Some of the more recent models have needed exhaust filters installed or even been replaced completely with brand new trucks or newer trucks.

CAINE: Why were those regulations put into place?

HARLEY: Diesel trucks are one of the biggest sources of air pollution in the state of California and the whole country. And the trucks last a long time. They can stay on the road for 20 years or more. And, especially at the ports, we had a pretty old mix of trucks operating right in an urban community with residential neighborhoods nearby. So that posed air pollution and health concerns for the neighbors.

CAINE: You've been studying some of the effects of those changes. You did some measurements at the Port of Oakland in 2009 and then again in 2010. Was that timed with the changes in the regulations?

HARLEY: Yes, exactly. We made some measurements just before the first phase of the program took effect and then we were back about six months later after the oldest trucks had been banned and a lot of filters had been installed and some newer trucks had come into the fleet. We timed those measurements deliberately to give a before and an after – and to see what the emission changes were from this attempt to clean up the port trucks.

CAINE: What did you find?

HARLEY: Well, it was pretty impressive reductions. Things went down by about 50 percent. When I say “things” I mean the black smoke emissions and also the nitrogen oxide emissions. These are two of the major air pollutants that diesel trucks emit a lot of and we were really struck by how quickly this reduction in emissions had occurred. Normally it might take 10 years of gradual replacement of old trucks to get that kind of reduction. Here it was in 6 months instead of 10 years that those emission reductions happened. That's a very rapid and successful reduction in emissions.

CAINE: These emission regulations are for the whole state of California, is that correct?

HARLEY: They will be. The ports and rail yards have been what the state calls an early action item. They got started there first, but the same kinds of requirements are coming statewide to all trucks, not just the ports and rail yards. There's going to be a lot of activity there in the next coming years, but California's approach is different from the national approach. The national approach is only about new trucks, saying they need to have modern emission equipment, but California reaches out to the older models and says that those trucks have to be either cleaned up or retired on an accelerated schedule. That's part of California's longstanding role or approach as a laboratory for air pollution control. The program here is pushing more rapidly to reduce these diesel emissions than elsewhere in the country.

CAINE: Tell me about the impact on individual truckers who often own their own vehicles. Do you know how much it costs to retrofit a truck, as opposed to buying a new truck?

HARLEY: Yeah, so ballpark numbers might be $15,000 to put an exhaust filter on a diesel truck – that's a big investment and on a very old truck – it's probably not worth it because that would be more than the value of the truck. Brand new trucks could be $100,000, or something in that range. These are expensive pieces of equipment. There are some grant programs that the state and various other agencies involved have been helping, not to cover the complete cost, but to at least subsidize the costs of retrofits. And then there are some truckers who just replace, who get a newer or brand new truck rather than go through the investment of control equipment on an old truck that's not worth it. So it’s left to the individual to decide whether it makes more sense to replace with newer equipment or to retrofit older equipment. The very oldest trucks just weren't suitable for retrofitting, so they aren't in the program at all for being retrofitted.

CAINE: I would guess, similarly to people who drive very old, used cars, that people who were driving those very old trucks – that was probably all they could afford. I'm just curious if there are alternatives for people who can't afford a $15,000 filter, or can’t really put in a huge investment to meet those new requirements. Are there are any alternatives?

HARLEY: I think it is going to make it more expensive to operate. You need newer and cleaner equipment and there's a cost to having that. There are a lot of interesting questions about air pollution control related to this program. One of them is sort of a financial question: is it better to retrofit older trucks or just to replace them outright? I think the approach the Port of Oakland has taken is more cost effective by trying to retrofit some of the middle-aged trucks, and not delay and buy time before the bigger costs of replacing the equipment need to be incurred. In Southern California, they implemented a fee on every container and the shippers ended up subsidizing the replacement of trucks down there. Oakland's sort of in competition with the Southern California ports and it couldn't implement that fee on the shippers because it would just drive the business to other ports. So the approach in the Bay Area was a less costly one. On the other hand, there wasn't money from the shippers to cover all the costs. There were grant programs from the port itself, the state, and various other agencies to help offset some of the costs, but not all of them. So that's an interesting question: what's the right approach? What's the right short-term approach and what's the right longer term approach in terms of retrofitting filters on older trucks versus just replacing them to newer trucks?

CAINE: So what's the payoff for the rest of us? Let's talk about the community around the Port of Oakland. Do you have a sense of how the changes in regulations are affecting the health of folks around the port?

HARELY: That's a hard question – to say how people's health status is changing as the truck emissions are cleaned up. But it's an interesting question. It's really the point of all this effort to clean up the emissions of diesel trucks. So I can go only some of the first steps, and others will have to take some of the next steps in understanding what the health outcomes are. But we are seeing changes in air quality in the community, in West Oakland, near the port. Similar things are happening in Southern California, in the ports of L.A., and Long Beach regulation.

CAINE: Are you going back to do any more testing of the air?

HARELY: We are. We've been back – actually, quite recently – in November of this year. We'll go back again in early 2013, after 3 more model years of trucks have been fixed with emission filters and more replacement of the older trucks have occurred. So it's an ongoing program to clean up the diesel truck fleet in California. It started at the Port of Oakland and the Southern California ports as well, and it's going to move statewide over the coming years. You could almost call this the decade of diesel control coming up, and a really strong focus now on controlling diesel emissions in California.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Beijing Bike Scheme, Florida Traffic Deaths Drop, Airlines Sue DOT Over Advertising Rules

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Top stories on TN:
Trying Out Staten Island's Bus Time (Link)
Montana To Parents, Kids: We Know It’s Winter — But You Can Still Walk & Bike To School (Link)
As Presidential Race Moves to South Carolina, Pothole Ads Do, Too (Link)
Amtrak: In 2012, We Want eTickets, Electric Locomotives, and Speedier Trains (Link)

Bicyclists in Beijing (photo by Superflow via Flickr)

Beijing will put 20,000 rental bikes on the street this year to ease congestion -- and open four new subway lines. (Xinhua)

Parts of Nigeria are under a curfew after protests against the ending of fuel subsidies grew violent. "Overnight, prices at the pump more than doubled...The costs of food and transportation also doubled."  (NPR)

Adding mass transit to the Tappan Zee Bridge would delay the project at least two years, says the head of the New York State DOT. (Journal News)

New MTA head Joe Lhota says he'll continue to pursue a smartcard system for NYC transit. (New York Times)

Traffic deaths in Florida dropped to a 33-year low in 2011, although the state's population doubled in that span. (AP via Miami Herald)

Some airlines are suing the DOT over its requirement that advertisements include all taxes and fees in ticket prices for flights. (The Hill)

Sales of diesel-powered cars in the U.S. rose  27.4 percent in 2011 while hybrid sales dropped 2.2 percent. (AutoBlogGreen)

Capital Bikeshare has posted data files with individual (but anonymous) trip data. (Greater Greater Washington)

DC's Metro would have to condemn many more properties than originally thought in order to build the Purple Line. (Washington Post)

Volkswagen unveils the E-Bugster -- an electric Beetle concept car -- in Detroit. (Gizmag)

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Transportation Nation

Obama's New Diesel Standards

Friday, October 01, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) New diesel fuel economy standards are expected to be finalized within a week and some in the diesel industry are taking the occasion to remind us about the other way to reduce pollution, making engine technology cleaner with clean diesel.   The new regulations are expected to require diesel engines to increase miles per gallon performance primarily for light trucks and heavy-duty vehicles, but regulating that category is no easy task.

In Europe, 50% of the cars on the road are diesel according to the Diesel Technology Forum. Here in the U.S though, diesel vehicles make up just 3% of of our vehicles, accounting for 10% of our nation's oil consumption, and 20% of the transit-related pollution. That's an environmental opportunity when you think of what a few extra miles-per-gallon would do with a bus or truck that travels over a million miles during its lifetime.

Its a complicated matter though to set fuel efficiency standards for heavy duty vehicles, a category that covers tractor trailers as well as construction vehicles like dump trucks. The fuel is consumed in many different ways, it could be used making cross country highway trips or in operating equipment on the truck while stationary like a cement mixer.  Some vehicles go 100,000 miles a year, others may not travel more than a few hundred, like a fire truck. Some argue per-mile efficiency may not be the best metric for reducing diesel consumption and pollution across the board. The NYT has a nice explanation of this and other regulatory puzzles that explain some of the delay in targeting this class of transit polluter.

Mileage standards are certainly one way to reduce diesel pollution, but technology is another. In anticipation of the new regulations, clean diesel advocates at the Diesel Technology Forum pointed out a 52% rise in clean diesel vehicle sales over a year ago. No one expects clean diesel to rival hybrids for the mantle of greener cars, but it may well be a growth market and an eco-opportunity.

One recent study by the National Academy of Sciences estimates that we can cut fuel consumption in heavy-duty vehicles almost in half with the combination of new technologies and diesel fuel economy standards. That's likely the kind of hopeful case for change the Obama administration will make when they release the official standards.

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