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Northwest Herald: Diesel cleanup funding must be restored

Date: 
07/18/2011

Diesel cleanup funding must be restored
By Jonathan Doster, Citizen Action/Illinois

The Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (“DERA”) is a popular national and state-level grant and loan program designed to clean up dirty and outdated diesel engines. Originally enacted in 2005 with overwhelming bipartisan support, DERA has powered air quality improvements across Illinois through engine replacements and retrofits. Unfortunately, funding for this important law has been zeroed out of President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2012.

Why is this so troubling? Diesel pollution is a serious public health issue. The exhaust from diesel engines contains more than 40 toxic air contaminants, carcinogens, ozone smog-forming compounds, and fine particulate matter (“soot”). Exposure to fine particles is known to cause asthma attacks, heart attacks, lung cancer, strokes, and even premature deaths.

In Illinois alone, it is estimated that diesel exhaust triggers more than 20,000 asthma attacks, causes more than 600 heart attacks, and leads to approximately 573 premature deaths each year.

Since enactment, DERA has been successful from an economic and public health perspective. According to Office of Management and Budget calculations, the grant and loan program yields one of the greatest cost-benefit ratios of any federal program. And according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, every dollar spent on clean diesel projects produces up to $13 of public health benefits.

Every state in the nation now has a diesel retrofit program that benefits from DERA funding. In Illinois, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Diesel Grant Program has “cleaned up” more than 1,000 diesel-powered vehicles and equipment on 134 total projects. Cities, public agencies, and private companies have secured nearly $7.5 million through the DERA program to retrofit transit buses with diesel particulate filters, install anti-idling equipment on long-haul trucks, and update the older engines in some of our city’s aging construction fleets. These projects have been successfully implemented and have provided clean air and local jobs in every single congressional district on the map.

DERA also provides benefits to local manufacturers. Caterpillar (Peoria), Deere (Moline), and Navistar (Warrenville) are all leaders in developing and manufacturing diesel engines and equipment that use these emissions controls that greatly reduce diesel exhaust. The production of cleaner diesel engines and the catalysts and filters that clean up older diesel engines has created thousands of new manufacturing jobs across the country during a time of historic levels of unemployment.

Regrettably, without strong congressional leadership, the program will languish. The Illinois Campaign to Clean Up Diesel Pollution, a coalition of more than 100 public health, labor, environmental, and community organizations, is calling on members of the Illinois delegation to support at a minimum, $50 million for DERA in fiscal 2012. Without continued funding of DERA, the EPA’s National Clean Diesel program, and the Illinois Clean Diesel Grant Program will be in jeopardy.

• Jonathan Doster is an organizer with Citizen Action/Illinois, working on the Illinois Campaign to Clean Up Diesel Pollution.