In our opinion: Time to stop choking on dirty diesel
Oregon lags behind its neighbors to the north and south in mandating crackdown
Oregon is known as an environmental pioneer in the areas of urban bicycling, use of renewable energy, the Bottle Bill, recycling and taking action against global warming.
However, Oregon has not yet stepped up to address the problem of diesel emissions. Federal law already requires any trucks manufactured after 2007 to meet clean diesel standards. It is up to individual states, though, to figure out how to deal with ongoing emissions from older engines, and Oregon finds itself lagging behind the other two West Coast states when it comes to getting old diesel rigs off the road.
To the south, California continues to enact the toughest diesel standards in the country even higher than the federal standards. Californias standards will require extensive retrofitting of diesel trucks and buses. By some estimates, nearly 1 million trucks or buses will need to be retrofitted or replaced.
To the north of us, Washington has adopted Californias diesel standard, although it didnt require the phaseout of older vehicles. Instead, Washington has approved at least $5 million in the past few years to help truckers and other diesel owners retrofit their rigs or buy new ones.
This leaves Oregon sandwiched between two clean states. It isnt difficult to guess where the older diesel trucks that dont meet California and Washingtons standards are likely to be sold. Thats right: the good ol Beaver state, where we allow diesel pollution concentrations 33 times higher than our neighbors.
According to data compiled by the Clean Diesel Initiative for the Department of Environmental Quality, diesel exhaust is estimated to cause 250 premature deaths in Oregon each year.
But efforts are being made to curb this problem, as reported last week by the Portland Tribunes Steve Law.
One group, the Northwest District Association, recently secured a commitment by developer C.E. John Co. to require exhaust filters on the diesel-powered cranes, trucks and earth movers that will redevelop the Conway site in northwest Portland.
The Arlington Heights Neighborhood Association asked for similar clean-diesel guarantees when the Portland Water Bureau caps the Washington Park reservoirs.
Whats more, Northwest Container Services, using government grants, retrofitted most of the companys container stackers, thus slashing the diesel-polluting capabilities of these machines by 93 percent.
Catlin Gabel School retrofitted its fleet of 13 school buses with diesel exhaust filters in 2006 after studies showed that diesel particulates are most hazardous to young people.
These are excellent examples of ways to reduce the hazards of diesel pollution through collaboration, retrofitting, appropriate public pressure and incentives.
However, Oregon needs a more comprehensive solution one that brings it more in line with neighboring states while also helping contractors and other businesses offset the cost of converting their equipment and fleets to cleaner technology.
The harder line approach taken by California has proven to be politically difficult in Oregon, but Washingtons incentive-based remedy is worth emulating. Providing financial assistance to businesses that would need to either retrofit or replace vehicles is a step in the right direction.
If anything, Oregons legislators should go beyond the $5 million that Washington has been able to provide in the way of funding to retrofit older heavy trucks. That amount is but a drop in the bucket compared with a multi-billion dollar state budget and the ultimate cost of retrofitting all older heavy trucks in Oregon has been estimated at $700 million.
Other tactics can be utilized as well, including the idea of tacking an extra percentage or two onto the winning bids for public projects. The contractors then could use the additional funds to employ clean-diesel technology.
A mandate to get rid of all old diesel equipment could be onerous for businesses, contractors and public agencies, but Oregon also should take action to keep itself from becoming a dumping ground for vehicles and equipment from Washington and California. The health of Oregon residents should be protected with a more assertive and complete approach.
Originally published in the Feb. 14 edition of The Portland Tribune