Construction Industry and Green Group Join Hands on Clean Diesel

Clean diesel engines, which expel less emissions and get better mileage than conventional counterparts, are benefiting from a lobbying campaign by auto companies. And environmental advocates have come to the table, agreeing with the construction industry on a plan to convert highway construction equipment to clean diesel.

south_ferry_tour.jpgA clean-diesel excavator at work in New York City. (Photo: EPA)

The accord between the Clean Air Task Force and the Associated General Contractors was first reported in today’s Greenwire: 

The groups want the [next long-term transportation] legislation to authorize states to
require diesel emissions reductions at construction sites and to cover
the cost of retrofitting or re-powering equipment manufactured to meet
earlier emissions standards.

The proposal would not alter the bidding process for
contractors hoping to land federally funded transportation projects,
and any additional costs of the emissions-savings measures would be
covered by federal funding.

Federal funds
to reimburse contractors for any increased costs they incur would come
from an existing federal air-quality program, the Congestion Mitigation
and Air Quality Improvement Program.

On its face, the deal sounds promising. Exhaust from older, dirtier diesel engines contains more than 40 separate toxic contaminants, according to California state air regulators, but diesel emissions standards have been strengthened at a far slower rate than those for conventional autos.

Moreover, providing government funding to help convert diesel highway equipment — thus ensuring the construction industry doesn’t foot the bill — has paid off in California, known for its ahead-of-the-curve approach to air pollution.

But using funds from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program to pay contractors for converting their engines risks depleting a crucial source of aid for clean transportation. The set of "Clean Construction Principles" [PDF] endorsed by the industry and environmentalists states that "Congress should set aside a significant percentage of the funding it has historically provided for the CMAQ program" to pay for a move to clean diesel.

In the recent past alone, CMAQ money has helped avert transit service cuts in the Bay Area, paid for new buses in Las Vegas, and expedited work on a new bicycle and pedestrian trail in Indiana. If Congress takes money away from the program for clean-diesel construction, would the "funding it has historically provided" be increased to keep investing in sustainable transport?

Late Update: Conrad Schneider, advocacy director of the Clean Air Task Force, said in an interview that his group would not be amenable to diminishing clean transportation funds to pay for diesel conversions. The "Clean Construction Principles," he noted, also suggest that Congress dedicate new money for cleaner-burning construction.

"CMAQ wouldn’t be the first place we’d want to look," he said, "but if that was the only way to make
this program happen, we would want to see additional incremental money [for the program]."

The clean-diesel cause also has attracted significant support from House Democrats. In a letter spearheaded by Rep. John Hall (D-NY) last month, 55 Democrats urged leaders of the transportation committee to preserve public health by requiring road construction equipment to emit less pollution. The group wrote:

Today, more than 88 million Americans live in counties that violate federal health standards for fine particulate pollution. Therefore it should come as no surprise that pollution from diesel construction equipment poses a health threat to people across the country, communities large and small and project workers alike. …

To address this problem, we request that transportation projects built with federal funds minimize any adverse impact on a community’s air quality. This would mean requiring that construction vehicles working on federally funded transportation projects use a diesel particulate filter which can virtually eliminate a diesel engine’s fine particulate emissions. If the construction equipment slated for use on a job does not already meet this level of control, we request that the [long-term federal transportation bill] include funding to pay for these filters.


Dying to Get to Work

As New York State sets up a commission to study the costs and benefits of New York City’s congestion pricing proposal, a new study by the Clean Air Task Force finds that, for many New Yorkers, the greatest exposure to dangerous and unhealthy air pollution comes during the daily commute. "Although we spend only about […]

Centers for Disease Control: Transportation Reform is Health Reform

The connection between transportation and public health has slowly edged into the mainstream since Streetsblog Capitol Hill began covering it last year, first through a billion-dollar grant program added to Congress’ sprawling health care bill and now in a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) brief that connects existing U.S. infrastructure with chronic disease, obesity, and […]

Could a Green Bank Hitch a Ride on the Jobs Bill?

Fans of a National Infrastructure Bank (NIB) that would help leverage private-sector funding for transportation projects are still hoping for Hill action after the House declined to add the idea to its $154 billion jobs bill. But the NIB isn’t the only new financing strategy on the table, as Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) reminded […]

Hydrogen: Not as Green as it Seems

BMW’s new hydrogen-powered luxury sedan is about as environmentally-friendly as a diesel truck. Spiegel reports: The new car caters to the pleasing fantasy of customers spoiled by high-horsepower engines: That they can conform to ecological standards without making any sacrifices, burning "clean" fuel to their heart’s content. Advertising images display the Hydrogen 7 against a backdrop […]

Environmental Group Offers Congress a Map to Cleaner Freight

The federal government can reap significant pollution-reduction benefits by focusing on a national freight plan that replaces older diesel equipment with newer, cleaner-burning train cars while building out regional networks more efficiently, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) said yesterday in a new report [PDF]. Freight rail in Chicago, home of the stimulus-funded CREATE freight project. […]