Old diesel equipment still spewing soot into Pittsburgh's air

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‘Clean construction’ laws have sprouted across the country. Pittsburgh’s was modeled after New York City’s version, called Local Law 77.

New York’s version passed in 2003 and took about a year to implement. It also required convincing industry officials that the retrofits wouldn’t cause warranties to be voided or engines to explode, said Gerry Kelpin of that city’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Kelpin’s team is in charge of enforcing the law.

City leadership, including The New York City Council and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, strongly supported the law, Kelpin said.

Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto, who was the main sponsor of the ordinance, gave a copy of New York City’s regulations to Pittsburgh’s Law Department.

Meetings concerning the regulations to implement the ordinance have been going on for more than a year, according to Peduto’s office.

However, the regulations have not been finalized, said Daniel Regan, Pittsburgh’s solicitor.

“Regan said they are waiting to hear from Peduto’s office. Peduto is running for mayor.”

“We weren’t involved, nor were we asked to be involved, in drafting the legislation,” Regan said, adding they they thought it was important for the sponsors to review it.

When PublicSource asked about the implementation of the ordinance at a public event, Ravenstahl declined to comment.

Doug Anderson, the deputy city controller whose inspectors will be in charge of enforcing the retrofitting requirements, said his inspectors haven’t been trained.

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, co-sponsor of the ordinance, said she hopes the regulations are written as soon as possible.

“Until it’s implemented, it’s just words on a page,” said Rudiak, who is running for re-election.

Rudiak said she has a list of ordinances that council passed that haven’t been implemented by this administration.

“At the end of the day, I want to make sure the public is aware of what’s really going on out there, and they can be the judge of how they feel about it,” she said.

According to Pittsburgh’s City Code, any ordinance that isn’t vetoed by the mayor, automatically becomes law; the Clean Air Act of 2010 was signed by Ravenstahl.

But in order for the law to be enforceable, rules need to be drafted.

The dirty diesel regulations have been in the works for more than a year.

“That’s a long time,” said Denise Rousseau, a professor of public policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College.

Rousseau, who was speaking about the role of elected leaders in implementing laws and not about any specific instance, suggested that the reasons for the delay might include an administrative backlog, logistical problems coming up with enforceable rules or pressure from an external source.

An undue burden?

Construction industry representatives, who were at the table during the drafting of the law, warned that retrofitting requirements might block small construction companies from doing business in Pittsburgh.

The Heinz Endowments, whose Breathe Project works with government and industry for cleaner air, contributed to an existing Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) fund to help small contractors retrofit their equipment. (The Heinz Endowments also supports PublicSource.)

“It was a way to help small contractors to still be competitive under a new requirement,” said Caren Glotfelty, senior director of The Heinz Endowments’ Environment Program.

A new piece of diesel equipment is a huge investment for companies, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Besides buying new equipment, companies can replace the engine, swap parts in the engine, or attach a filter to retrofit. Each option must be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Not all machines have solutions,” said Jason Koss.

Koss is the director of industry relations for the Constructors Association of Western Pennsylvania. About 15 members of the trade association have already retrofitted their equipment using money from the ACHD, he said.

Koss said there are always costs associated with new regulations.

Supporters of the law said opportunities to make the air cleaner are being lost.

And for people like Feldman, the costs of the region’s poor air quality are tangible.

Feldman, one of Dr. Holguin’s patients, developed asthma and allergies during his early 50s. But he hasn’t has an asthma attack for about four years because he regularly takes his medication.

The meds cost about $150 a month, even with health insurance through WQED. (The public broadcasting network is a news partner of PublicSource.)

Filippini, of GASP, said that doing nothing about the diesel air pollution may seem like the cheaper and easier thing to do, but the health and environmental costs are great. Children miss school because of asthma attacks; parents miss work to stay home with sick children. There are also more emergency room visits, and higher insurance premiums.

Pittsburgh has come a long way from i’s ‘smoky city’ image, Filippini said, adding that this law is a tangible step the city can take to clean up regional air pollution.

“It is a way that they can be a leader,” she said.

Reach Emily DeMarco at 412-315-0262 or edemarco@publicsource.org.

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