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Port of NY/NJ to Dump the Dirtiest Diesels: Truck Replacement Program Released Today

Rich Kassel

Posted March 10, 2010 in Curbing Pollution, Environmental Justice, Health and the Environment, Living Sustainably, The Media and the Environment

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Today, I’m joining Chris Ward, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Judith Enck and others to announce a new truck replacement program that is an important first step towards improving air quality at the port’s marine terminals.  Equally important, it’s an important first step toward reducing the pollution impacts of heavy truck traffic in the neighboring communities of Newark, Elizabeth and New York that have borne the brunt of port truck pollution for decades.   The plan was referenced in this recent front page Business section story in The New York Times that focused on a similar initiative out of Los Angeles.

Over the past year, I co-chaired the Port Authority’s Truck Work Group with my good friend, Bill Nurthen of the Port Authority.  Together, we worked with staff from all of the key stakeholders on this issue – federal, state and city governments, community and environmental justice groups, labor, and industry.  The plan that emerged is an important step that will mean cleaner air for drivers and communities neighboring the port next year.  It deserves our hearty applause.

The truck replacement program will have three main components: 

  • All pre-1994 trucks will be replaced with cleaner vehicles at the port’s marine terminals, starting on New Year’s Day 2011.  Nobody drives a 30-year-old truck because they like the dirty exhaust – they drive them because they cannot afford to buy a newer truck. These are the oldest, dirtiest diesels used at the port.  By next year, they will all replaced by models that are model year 2004 or newer and pollute much less. Those who buy 2004-2006 engines will cut their soot pollution by roughly 2/3 and will drop their smog-forming nitrogen oxides by more than half.  Those who buy the newer, post-2007 trucks will see soot reductions of 95 percent and NOx reductions of at least 75 percent.
  • Financing to help truck owners make the switch. 636 truck owners will get the financing incentives they need to enable them to upgrade from their old, dirty diesel vehicles to the newer, cleaner, and more reliable trucks.  Specifically, the program will provide $28 million in financial assistance from EPA stimulus funds and the Port Authority to help drivers switch from their pre-1994 trucks to the cleaner, more efficient vehicles. Truck drivers will be eligible for a 25 percent grant toward the total purchase price of a replacement truck and low-interest financing (5.25 percent over five years) for up to 75 percent of the total purchase price.
  • By 2017, all pre-2007 trucks servicing the port will be replaced with newer, cleaner vehicles. In the long run, we need to clean up all of the trucks – not just the oldest and dirtiest.  That’s why under this new program, only trucks equipped with 2007 or newer engines will carry containers and goods to and from the port in 2017.  These engines are certified to the most protective soot standards in the world.  

This program is the latest step on the road towards a sustainable goods movement system.  Back in 2004, NRDC released “Harboring Pollution” – the first environmental report on the health impacts of our nation’s large ports, complete with a set of recommendations on how to make our ports more sustainable.

Cleaning up trucks was at the top of the list of recommendations.  Here’s why:

Every day, thousands of dirty diesel trucks carry containers of goods from large ships to warehouses, distribution centers and other facilities, en route to stores and homes around the nation.  These trucks (so-called “drayage trucks”) tend to be older and dirtier than the typical truck driven on the interstates. They travel through mostly low-income neighborhoods and communities of color bordering our ports, spewing high levels of particulate soot that triggers asthma emergencies, bronchitis, cancer, heart disease and premature deaths.

Fortunately – as we’re seeing today and as I’ve written over and over, diesel pollution is a solvable problem.  Today’s new trucks are more than 90 percent cleaner than the trucks they replace. 

But the drayage trucks aren’t the super-clean new trucks being sold today.  They are typically trucks that started out in large, well-maintained fleets that travelled long distances, and that trickled down to smaller and smaller fleets on their way to drayage service, a place that my colleague, David Pettit, has called the place “where old trucks go to die.”

In the months and years to come, we need to build on today’s announcement to ensure that goods movement throughout our region is as clean, competitive and sustainable as possible – for the communities that breathe the air, and for the drivers and businesses who will be investing in the cleaner trucks.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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