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GEI Publishes Report Urging Policymakers to Take Action on Diesel

August 07, 2019

Portland suffers from some of the highest levels of diesel pollution in the United States. A recently released report from the Green Energy Institute (GEI) at Lewis & Clark Law School describes strategies to effectively address this pollution, in Deconstructing Diesel: A Law & Policy Roadmap for Reducing Diesel Emissions in the Portland Metropolitan Area.” 

The report follows the 2019 passage of Oregon House Bill 2007, the second-strongest diesel legislation in the U.S., and helps local policymakers and communities understand the next steps that can be taken to further reduce diesel emissions in the Portland area.

“Portland’s diesel particulate matter concentrations can be ten to twenty times higher than Oregon’s health-based air quality benchmarks,” staff attorney and report co-author Amelia Schlusser said. “And diesel pollution levels tend to be highest in communities of color and in low-income neighborhoods. To address the serious public health risks associated with diesel pollution exposure, local policymakers should pursue a variety of strategies to reduce emissions from diesel vehicles and engines in the metro area.”

Deconstructing Diesel: A Law & Policy Roadmap” describes a variety of local strategies to address emissions from existing on-road motor vehicles, nonroad vehicles and engines, and emissions from indirect sources of diesel pollution. It also encourages local governments to support statewide efforts to reduce emissions, such as supporting legislative or regulatory actions to adopt California’s EPA-approved emissions standards for new on-road vehicles and new and existing nonroad vehicles and engines.

The report notes that as California has phased-out older diesel vehicles in the state, many of the old diesel trucks that were previously registered in California have been sold into Oregon. Oregon’s HB 2007 will phase out 1996 and older diesel trucks starting in 2023, but the legislation does not prohibit re-registration of pre-2010 trucks until 2029. To prevent diesel emissions from increasing during the multi-year period when older California trucks can continue to be titled and registered in the Portland area, the report encourages local governments to adopt policies that target the use and operation of diesel trucks within their jurisdictions. 

Moreover, to address funding issues for transitioning away from diesel, the report suggests increasing permit fees for local projects that produce diesel pollution, levying privilege taxes on dealers or vendors that sell diesel-fueled vehicles or engines, and imposing penalties and fines for violations of diesel-related ordinances, such as truck route or idling violations.

“To meet the City’s and County’s long-term climate and energy targets, Portland and Multnomah County must ultimately shift away from diesel fuel and transition to electric and alternatively fueled vehicles and engines,” the report said. “Until this transition is complete, the City and County should prioritize strategies that reduce diesel pollution and minimize negative economic impacts in vulnerable frontline communities.”

The report is co-authored by three Lewis & Clark alumni, GEI staff attorney Amelia Schlusser ’13 and 2017-2018 Energy Law Fellows Lev Blumenstein ’17 and Natascha Smith ’17. Grants from the Bullitt Foundation and the Meyer Memorial Trust funded the report.

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