By State Representative
Recently, articles in The Southeast Examiner and several other local news outlets have highlighted how our state’s environmental reputation is undermined by lack of action regarding the regulation of pollution. I could not agree more. This is especially true for our long-standing problem with diesel emissions.
Roughly eighty per cent of freight in this country is moved by diesel engines, which also power most non-road construction and farm equipment. These engines are reliable, durable, powerful, and fuel efficient.
Unfortunately, they are heavy polluters. Diesel emissions are some of the most toxic pollution created by any engines. Particulates from diesel cause damage to human health, especially among children, the elderly, and those with respiratory ailments. They harm crops too by clogging the stomata on their leaves through which they breathe.
According to a 2015 study by the Center for Disease Control, Oregon not only leads the country in rates of adult asthma, but also has the country’s highest asthma-related mortality rate. Among US cities, Portland ranks second for adult asthma rates, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. The Oregon Environmental Council reports that ninety per cent of Oregonians now reside in areas where diesel particulate levels are above the state’s safety benchmark.
Due to the Willamette Valley’s topography and weather patterns, temperature inversions trap diesel fumes and lead to significant spikes in pollution levels, exacerbating our already poor air quality.
In the last two decades, California and Washington have adopted restrictions on diesel pollution. As a result, trucking firms and other industries in those states sold off their polluting assets in Oregon. As I mentioned earlier, these engines are durable and last a long time. We have become a dumping ground for the West Coast’s unwanted dirty diesel engines, making our problem worse.
Together with Speaker Tina Kotek and Representative Karen Power, I introduced HB 2007 to address this problem. The bill starts cleaning up Oregon’s truck fleets as well as providing grants for operators to upgrade their technology and install emissions reducing equipment. Under the bill, DEQ will set standards that medium and heavy-duty trucks must meet by 2029 for reducing emissions and transitioning to clean diesel engines.
HB 2007 will create the Clean Diesel Engine Fund to distribute grants to equipment owners who qualify. These funds will be prioritized for those who own small fleets, who belong to sensitive communities, or are in parts of the state with elevated levels of particulate matter. A sizable portion of the funds will come from Oregon’s $72.9 million allotment from the Volkswagen settlement, money the state is required to use specifically to combat diesel emissions.
To fund the program beyond what the VW settlement covers, the bill creates a task force to develop funding future streams such as taxes, fees, contract requirements, and other revenue generating tools that have proven successful in other states.
Idling is also a problem. When large vehicles idle their engines, they can quickly fill a street with diesel fumes. Oregon currently has a preemption on local jurisdictions from creating no-idling zones. HB 2007 removes that preemption so that local governments can protect vulnerable populations by creating no-idling zones around schools, nursing homes, and hospitals.
Regulation of diesel pollution is long overdue. HB 2007 is a reasonable and necessary step, that we believe can pass, to clean up our air and show that our state is serious about tackling pollution.
It’s time for Oregon to be an environmental leader once again on this bill and on HB 2020 Clean Energy Clean Jobs. I look forward to both bills passing in the Oregon House and Senate before spring is over.