Polluting Diesel Big Rigs, Forced from California, Head for Oregon

Tuesday, February 03, 2015
(photo: Ben Margot, Associated Press)

California truckers are being forced to get rid of older, polluting diesel big rigs that don’t meet the state’s new emissions standards. That’s good news for Californians who value breathable air, and bad news, in the short term, for Oregon and other nearby states.

All of California’s pre-2010 trucks—around 350,000, according to The Oregonian—have to leave the state by 2023, but some had to make a January 1 deadline. Although the Oregon Department of Transportation apparently does not have data readily available on ownership changes of polluting big rigs, everyone knows they are already rolling their way.

“A lot of the older model diesel trucks are now coming in to Oregon,” Chris Pair, a spokesman for Governor John Kitzhaber told The Oregonian. “This hugely impacts public health, particularly asthma rates for children.”

Congress took action years ago when it required newly-manufactured trucks and rigs to run “clean diesel” starting in 2007-08. That cut emissions nationally by more than 90%. But California one-upped the feds by eliminating a provision, in 2008, that allowed older rigs to legally keep going for decades.

That put pressure on other states to conform to California’s higher standards or become a dumping ground for heavier-polluting trucks. So far, none have. But Oregon lawmakers are expected to introduce legislation in this session that responds in some fashion. The Portland Tribune says one stumbling block to enacting a California-like law is an inability, or unwillingness, to match the subsidies its neighbor to the south provides the trucking industry.

State officials also have to contend with a powerful Oregon trucking industry, which thinks diesel pollution is a national issue best tended to by Congress and ignored by the states. Supporters of state legislation think it’s a health issue and there is no good reason to delay action.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that diesel exhaust causes around 460 premature deaths a year in Oregon. That’s more than murder and drunk driving deaths combined, according to Mary Peveto, an activist organizing a petition drive to adopt California’s programs to reduce diesel pollution.     

Oregon has a problem with diesel pollution. It is ranked sixth in the nation for health risk from it, and Multanoh County is fourth in concentration of diesel exhaust. That’s where Portland is, and many of the worst pollution stretches are in low-income neighborhoods of color. 

Diesel pollution is particularly nasty. It’s been linked to bladder and lung cancer, heart attacks, asthma, and low-weight births. Diesel’s ultrafine particles pass through the lungs into the bloodstream, and children and seniors are considered especially vulnerable.

Ten years ago this month, the Clean Air Task Force (CATF) published “Diesel and Health in America: The Lingering Threat.” Diesel had already been a lingering threat for awhile at that point, but CATF was buoyed by the knowledge that “technology exists right now to clean up emissions from these engines, so that most of the adverse health impacts can be prevented.” 

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Oregon Becomes Dumping Ground for California's Old, Polluting Diesel Big Rigs (by Rob Davis, The Oregonian)

Group Hopes to Ban Older Diesel Trucks (by Steve Law, Portland Tribune)

Stop Oregon from Being the Dumping Ground of Dirty Diesel Engines (by Mary Peveto, Change.org)

Diesel and Health in America: The Lingering Threat (Clean Air Task Force)

California: Diesel Trucks, Air Pollution and Public Health (Union of Concerned Scientists)

No Surprise: Diesel Exhaust Causes Cancer (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

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