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GEI Authors Petition for Oregon Diesel Emissions Regulation

December 20, 2019

The Green Energy Institute at Lewis & Clark Law School and the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, co-authored a petition to Oregon policymakers to establish a cap on toxic diesel emissions from non-road sources such as construction sites, distribution centers and railyards.

The petition was signed by a coalition of 21 organizations including Nonprofit Neighbors for Clean Air (NCA), Audobon Society of Portland, the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters. On December 20, 2019, the petition was submitted to the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission requesting that the state expand its outdated Indirect Source Rule, the policy intended to limit the aggregate air pollution emissions from facilities and properties that attract trucks, buses, trains and ships.

Oregon’s clean air laws lag behind nearly every other state when it comes to diesel, including California and Washington.

“Indirect source rules present a great opportunity to reduce harmful air pollution emissions from vehicles and engines that aren’t currently regulated at the state or local levels,” said the Green Energy Institute’s Amy Schlusser, the primary author of the petition. Although Oregon’s Indirect Source Rule has existed for decades, it is currently only being applied to new construction of large parking lots in certain urban areas. The petition, would direct the state to create a new rule to cover large construction sites, distribution centers and rail yards. These non-road sources are responsible for 65% of diesel emissions in Oregon.

Throughout Oregon, concentrations of diesel particulate matter, the byproduct of diesel exhaust, are more than 10 to 20 times higher than the state’s health-based air quality benchmarks. Portland’s diesel pollution is particularly high, with an average concentration of diesel particulate matter nearly nine times higher than the benchmark (source).

The high concentration of diesel particulate matter in Oregon’s air presents a serious threat to public health. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, each year, the state’s diesel problem is estimated to cause:

  • 400+ premature deaths
  • 140+ non-fatal heart attacks
  • 25,000+ lost work days

 In total, the cost of the health impacts due to dirty diesel pollution exceeds $3 billion annually in the state of Oregon.

“Diesel particulate matter is the leading cause of cancer toxicity in the Portland area and it also happens to be a substance that contributes to global warming,” stated Dr. Linda George, leading air quality environmental research specialist at Portland State University. “In our measurements throughout the city, we’ve noticed especially high concentrations of diesel pollution around construction equipment.”

Based on the location of pollution “hot spots,” communities of color are disproportionately affected by toxic emissions — evident in elevated rates of asthma, cardiovascular disease and low birthweight. Children are also especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of diesel, since they breathe about 50% more air per pound of body weight than adults.

Dirty diesel also has a disastrous effect on the environment. Diesel pollution is a type of short-term climate accelerant known as black carbon, which within 20 years has 3,000 times the carbon intensity of CO2. Reducing diesel emissions can have an immediate impact on carbon levels and play a key role in helping cities like Portland meet its climate goals of reducing the lifecycle of carbon emissions of transportation fuels by 20 percent and supporting businesses in minimizing the carbon intensity of their supply chains.

“The climate crisis threatens our health, our economy and our environment,” emphasized City of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. “We can’t afford to wait any longer to implement common-sense regulations that will guide us toward a greener future. If we can reduce carbon emissions by revising existing rules that have become outdated, that’s a great place to start.”

“Revising the Indirect Source Rule is a practical and immediate way to minimize the disastrous impacts of diesel pollution. It is critical that the County continue to focus on our air quality while advocating in Salem for effective sensible regulations,” said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury. “When it comes to protecting the places and the people we love, we won’t wait for others to solve our problems for us.”

Co-petitioners include:

  • Audubon Society of Portland
  • Beyond Toxics
  • The Center for Biological Diversity
  • The Center for a Sustainable Economy
  • Climate Solutions
  • Columbia RiverKeeper
  • Earthjustice
  • Environment Oregon
  • Forest Park Conservancy
  • Friends of Mount Hood
  • Green Energy Institute at Lewis & Clark Law School
  • Green Lents
  • Neighbors for Clean Air
  • Verde
  • Northwest Environmental Defense Center
  • OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon
  • Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club
  • Oregon Environmental Council
  • Oregon League of Conservation Voters
  • Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility
  • Tualatin RiverKeepers
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