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My View: State's emissions problems overblown

Like all things, the statement that Oregon has not yet “stepped up to address the problem with diesel pollution” is clearly in the eye of the beholder (Time to stop choking on dirty diesel emissions, editorial, Feb. 13).

Let’s look at some facts. According to Oregon 2013 vehicle registration data, 32.8 percent of all commercial trucks on the road (class 3-8; the small ones up to the big ones) are 2007 and newer, meaning that they have the latest clean diesel particulate control (the national average is 32.5 percent).

And 14 percent of trucks registered are 2010 and newer, meaning they also have near

zero emissions for oxides of nitrogen, in addition to near zero emissions of particulate matter.

If it were true that Oregon was a “dumping ground” for old “dirty diesel” trucks, as the editorial suggests, then you’d expect to have a higher population of older vehicles than your “reference” states of California and Washington. Actually the opposite is true.

Oregon has 4 percent more clean diesel trucks on the road than Washington, and a full 9 percent more new trucks than the “gold standard” of California. So the data suggest that truckers in Oregon are investing in new clean diesel technology faster than neighboring states, which translates directly into emissions benefits for the region.

Consider that it would take more than 60 of the 2014 model year heavy-duty, clean-diesel trucks to equal the emissions of a single truck built just 15 years ago. As for off-road engines and equipment, our experience and sales figures support the notion that while there are definitely older machines out there, they are the least used, and the most frequently used equipment is the newer generation.

The mainstream construction activities you’re bound to see most — material handling and digging with backhoes and excavators and small skid steer loaders, road maintenance and paving — are likely to have newer generations of diesel engines in place because they are used more and have higher turnover rates.

As the editorial noted, legislative initiatives underway to provide funding to upgrade older diesel engines and vehicles are needed, and more funds are better. Clean construction provisions also have proven popular in other parts of the country to help contractors work in the cost of upgrading diesel equipment directly into a project.

Oregon’s most recent air quality data (2012) suggests that only two areas — Klamath Falls and Oakridge — are designated nonattainment for particulate matter, and “most exceedances were either related to forest fire smoke or wintertime emissions.” The state is in full compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency’s federal clean-air standards for ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, lead and PM 10 (larger particle) particulate matter. That’s a pretty impressive record.

Don’t get me wrong. There is still plenty of opportunity to get the newest and cleanest diesel engines, trucks and fuels on the road and at the job site in Oregon and to reduce emissions from the older ones.

But the sky isn’t exactly falling either, especially when you consider the adoption rates of new technology diesel trucks — where Oregon is a regional leader.

Allen Schaeffer is executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, a nonprofit educational group based in Frederick, Md.