City and county move to eliminate 'dirty diesel' engines on public construction projects
After more than a decade of planning, pilot projects and other preliminaries, the Portland City Council and Multnomah County Board of Commissioners jointly passed resolutions Sept. 27 that will require the use of "clean diesel" vehicles and off-road equipment on construction projects they help fund.
Diesel exhaust is a known carcinogen, causing an estimated 400 or more premature deaths in Oregon each year, in addition to increased asthma attacks, heart disease, and nervous system effects.
Studies have shown Multnomah County has some of the highest levels of diesel pollution in the nation.
The Oregon Legislature has failed to adopt strong measures to clean up the diesel trucking fleet as California has done, so city and county officials decided they could move forward on an area within their jurisdiction: Construction projects where public money is involved.
"Together, we will send a message that the era of dirty diesel engines is coming to an end," declared Deborah Kafoury, Multnomah County chair, appearing before the Portland City Council.
Owners of construction and off-road equipment working on city- or county-funded projects could either switch to newer, so-called clean-diesel engines that don't emit many diesel particulates, or install filters that keep up to 95 percent of the hazardous materials from entering the air. The measure would be phased in over seven years, once the two local governments adopt formal ordinances that give some legal teeth to Thursday's resolutions.
One of the details to be decided is the dollar threshold for construction contracts that will trigger the new requirements.
Under the city version of the parallel resolutions, "Procurement Services and the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability must develop a program framework and identify the necessary resources to require contractors working on city construction projects to use equipment that controls diesel exhaust to protect public health."
City commissioners asked that the ordinance come before them for a final vote on Dec. 13.
According to the resolution approved Thursday, "65 percent of diesel particulate matter in the Portland-area is emitted from non-road equipment, such as construction equipment."
One oft-cited concern about the new policy is the potential impact on minority- and woman-owned contracting firms, which tend to be smaller and have less wherewithal to finance new equipment. The city and county will ask the Oregon Legislature to designate some of the lawsuit settlement money from the Volkswagen diesel scam to help those companies shift to cleaner engines.
On the other hand, people of color and low-income people often live closer to rail yards and freeways, and breathe some of the most toxic air in Portland because of diesel emissions.
The city and county previously retrofitted most of their own construction vehicles and equipment fueled by diesel. There also have been major efforts to replace diesel buses in Oregon.
Prodding private owners of construction equipment to upgrade their engines takes the effort a step further.
Other local governments, including Metro, Washington and Clackamas counties and the Port of Portland, were involved in framing the new plan. City and county leaders expressed hope that other jurisdictions will soon follow suit.
Mayor Ted Wheeler said there's been scant progress to ease diesel pollution at the state level. But Wheeler said he hopes the city and county action "will break loose what
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