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GEI Publishes Deconstructing Diesel: A Law & Policy Roadmap

August 07, 2019

The Green Energy Institute releases Deconstructing Diesel: A Law & Policy Roadmap for Reducing Diesel Emissions in the Portland Metropolitan Area

Diesel exhaust presents a very significant threat to public health and welfare in the Portland metropolitan area. Portland suffers from some of the highest levels of diesel pollution in the United States, and local diesel particulate matter concentrations can be ten to twenty times higher than Oregon’s health-based air quality benchmarks. Diesel engines also emit black carbon, a type of fine particulate matter that is a major contributor to global climate change. Unless local leaders take action to Portland’s diesel crisis, emissions will continue to rise over the coming decades. Unfortunately, the greatest burden will fall upon the area’s most vulnerable populations and frontline communities, which will pay the highest price for any local failure to address diesel’s significant health and climate threats.  

Due to these health and climate risks, state and local governments should be doing everything in their power to reduce diesel emissions. From a legal standpoint, however, it can be quite challenging to regulate emissions from mobile sources. The Oregon legislature recently took steps to address Portland’s diesel problem by adopting HB 2007 in 2019. While this legislation will eventually help phase out many older diesel trucks registered in the metropolitan area and builds upon existing local initiatives to reduce emissions from public construction projects, the full extent of HB 2007’s emissions reductions will not be realized for another ten years.

Fortunately, the region’s local governments have a variety of policy tools at their disposal to reduce emissions that the 2019 legislation fails to capture. To help inform policy makers and community members of the legal dynamics at play, the Green Energy Institute’s Deconstructing Diesel Law & Policy Roadmap provides an overview of the laws and regulatory frameworks that impede state and local efforts to regulate diesel emissions. The Roadmap also presents a series of strategies that the City of Portland and Multnomah County could take to avoid or overcome these legal barriers and reduce diesel emissions in the metropolitan area.

GEI’s Deconstructing Diesel Law & Policy Roadmap explores:

  • Where Portland’s diesel pollution comes from. On-road diesel vehicles, including medium- and heavy-duty trucks, buses, and waste collection and emergency vehicles, and diesel-fueled nonroad vehicles and engines, including construction equipment, railroad locomotives, marine vessels, lawn and garden equipment, and other off-road vehicles, collectively emit an estimated 472 tons of fine particulate matter in the Portland metropolitan area each year.
  • Which legal barriers impede local action to reduce diesel emissions. A variety of federal laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, and the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, preempt or constrain state and local authority to regulate diesel emissions in certain ways. Oregon law also imposes certain restrictions on local authority to regulate vehicle emissions and raise revenue to fund diesel-reduction efforts.
  • How local governments can overcome or avoid these legal barriers and exercise authority to regulate emissions. Oregon’s state and local governments retain authority to regulate diesel emissions through several types of legal and regulatory mechanisms that are not preempted under federal law. Local governments also have broad authority to promote diesel emissions reductions through incentive programs and proprietary actions.
  • What strategies the City of Portland and Multnomah County can pursue to effectively reduce diesel emissions in the metropolitan area. GEI’s Deconstructing DieselLaw and Policy Roadmap presents a variety of regulatory, voluntary, and proprietary actions Portland’s local governments can take to reduce emissions from diesel truck traffic, drayage fleets, public transit, construction equipment, and indirect sources of diesel pollution (including construction sites, rail yards, ports, freight distribution centers, and other facilities that generate diesel emissions from mobile sources). The Roadmap also outlines a series of state policies that local governments can promote to enable additional emissions reductions at the local level. Finally, the Roadmap describes potential strategies for funding diesel reduction efforts.

Effective actions to reduce diesel emissions will produce meaningful health and welfare benefits in Portland’s low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, and will reduce diesel-related health risks for all who live and work in the metropolitan area. Swift local action is equally as important from a climate standpoint, because diesel black carbon emissions have a disproportionate impact on global temperature increases (on a mass basis, the warming impact of black carbon is up to 1,500 times stronger than carbon dioxide). The strategies identified in the Green Energy Institute’s Deconstructing Diesel Law & Policy Roadmap present a variety of tools for addressing Portland’s diesel dilemma at the local level and improving the quality of life for area residents. 

CLICK HERE to access GEI’s Deconstructing Diesel Law & Policy Roadmap.

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