EPA grant will reduce diesel pollution in Multnomah County

April 17, 2015

Commissioner Bailey (center) and EPA Administrator McCarthy compare clean and dirty diesel engine examples.

Federal Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy announced a $1.5 million grant in North Portland on April 15 that will help reduce diesel air pollution in Multnomah County, a serious health problem that county elected leaders and employees are working to solve.

The Diesel Emissions Reduction Act grant will help replace 23 old diesel trucks that service the Port of Portland with newer model clean diesel trucks. Grant funds will also pay to retrofit exhaust controls on three container lifts at NW Container Services terminal in North Portland.

“Dirty diesel is a killer,” said County Commissioner Jules Bailey at a news conference at NW Container Services where the grant was announced.  The company transports more than 100,000 shipping containers a year, all by diesel engines.

“Diesel exhaust is a carcinogen and a pollutant,” Commissioner Bailey said. “It increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and cardiovascular disease. And the effect on our kids is perhaps worst of all.”

Diesel engines move 94% of our nation’s freight. But these workhorses of our economy have also been big contributors to air pollution. Exhaust from old diesel engines includes tiny particles of pollutants that easily enter people’s lungs and bloodstream. New diesel engines are fitted with pollution controls that reduce toxic emissions by 99%.  

“Multnomah County has the fourth highest level of diesel pollution of the more than 3,000 counties in the US,” Commissioner Bailey noted at the news conference. “In some areas, like North Portland that is surrounded by transportation and freight corridors, levels of diesel pollution are over 10 times the statewide health benchmark.”

“And our Health Department has determined that communities of color in Multnomah County are exposed to levels of diesel pollution two to three times higher than their white counterparts,” Commissioner Bailey said.

Multnomah County’s Climate Action Plan advocates for shifting to clean diesel.  Diesel pollution, in addition to being a risk to public health, also contributes to climate change. The county has worked with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the Port of Portland and the trucking industry to look for ways to reduce diesel pollution in the county. Diesel pollution is especially serious in Multnomah County because most of the freeways, rivers and air routes that carry freight to Oregon all converge here.

At the news conference, employees from NW Container Services used two white pillow cases to demonstrate the effectiveness of clean diesel engines.  A pillowcase was attached to the exhaust pipes of an old container lift and a retrofitted one.  After the engine of each machine ran a few seconds, the pillowcases were removed: the one from the retrofitted vehicle was still pure white, while the one from the old diesel engine was baked with black diesel soot.

EPA Administrator McCarthy praised local efforts to focus on reducing diesel pollution. “It’s difficult to get an EPA grant,” she said. “This project was funded because it is a strong partnership where our grant will leverage local funds.” Project partners from DEQ, NW Container Services, and the City of Portland also spoke at the news conference.

Commissioner Bailey noted the health and economic benefits of the grant. “It will eliminate 1.2 tons of diesel particulate per year.  At the county, we’ve found that for every dollar we invest in clean diesel retrofits, we get back ten dollars in public health benefits.”