Emissions Should be Considered Alongside Expected Freight Increase

Credit: Mom's Clean Air Force

Texas isn’t the only state dealing with air quality issues.

In Georgia this week, I joined numerous experts working in a collaborative effort to develop cost-efficient strategies and solutions for reducing diesel engine emissions.

At this Southeast Diesel Collaborative (SEDC) 7th Annual Partners Meeting, the mix of federal, state and local government officials, together with NGOs, and private industry reflected a contemporary trend toward problem solving. That is, the more brainpower tackling a complex problem like air pollution, the more likelihood solutions can be found.

My presentation focused on the public health implications of diesel pollution and how we can accommodate the anticipated increase in goods movement while also reducing emissions and exposures. This topic, of course, parallels some of the very same issues we tackle right here in Texas.

Elena Craft at the Southeast Diesel Collaborative

Freight: Transportation’s Most Polluting and Fastest Growing Sector

For those who may not have read Marcelo Norsworthy’s July post, the capacity of the Panama Canal is set to double by 2014, allowing larger ships to transport goods. Projections by the Panama Canal Authority over the next 20 years has cargo volume growing at “an average of three percent per year, doubling 2005's tonnage by the year 2025.”

Freight movement has been identified as the most polluting as well as the fastest-growing transportation sector, and therefore a significant cause for concern. EDF’s position is that emissions reductions strategies should be a part of every freight planning exercise. Consider the following:

  • By 2020, 90.1 million tons of freight per day are expected to move throughout the United States, a 70 percent increase from 2002.
  • Freight emissions have increased almost 60 percent since 1990, more than double the growth rate of passenger travel emissions (27 percent).
  • The freight sector represents nearly 25 percent of transportation’s greenhouse gas emissions, or approximately 8 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

All About Health

Diesel emissions increase when freight traffic increases. Adverse health impacts will also be on the increase if strategies are not put into place to mitigate them. Diesel engine pollutants we are concerned about include particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and other toxics, not to mention the increase in greenhouse gases.

The dangerous health costs of these rising diesel engine emissions include the shortening of 21,000 lives per year. Studies also demonstrate that people who work around diesel equipment, including truck drivers, railroad workers and equipment operators, are more likely to develop lung cancer than workers who are not exposed to diesel emissions.

A related Environmental Protection Agency report highlights the climate and health impacts of black carbon, a product of fossil fuel incomplete combustion and the most light-absorbing component of particulate matter.

It’s also estimated that for every dollar spent on reducing freight-related pollution, health and productivity benefits would be between $3 and $8 (USD).

Working Toward Solutions

As our readers know, we apply our efforts toward attainable solutions. Yes, the freight movement is expected to increase in coming years, not only along the Panama Canal and Southeastern United States, but also in Texas. And yes, air quality is expected to be a significant corresponding issue.

However, there are solutions under way, and many more on the horizon. One of the biggest solutions involves replacing older diesel engines with newer, less polluting ones   (heavy-duty engines are up to 60 times cleaner than they were just 20 years ago!)

Other solutions include cleaner fuels, better coordination across stakeholder organizations, engine replacement incentives, and improved fuel efficiency measures.

Some of the environmental initiatives under way at various ports around the nation include vessel speed reduction; the increased usage of low sulfur vessel fuel; diesel/electric tugs; locomotive retrofits; clean truck programs and more.

The bottom line: Reducing freight-related diesel engine emissions can be done in sync with the anticipated increase in the goods movement. It takes will, collaboration, and effort, but it can be done.

I’d like to extend a personal thank you to Rebecca Watts-Hull for organizing such a successful and thought provoking conference. As director of Mothers and Others for Clean Air, Rebecca is making a difference in the Southeast.

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