Roll On, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0)image from Jeremy Brooks’ photostream

On November 30th, The Heinz Endowments and the Breathe Project Coalition announced the creation of the Clean Diesel Construction Equipment Retrofit Fund. The fund will provide nearly $1 million to install pollution control equipment on diesel-powered vehicles. The fund is in response to the passage of the historic Clean Air Act by Pittsburgh City Council. The Clean Air Act seeks to reduce particle pollution from diesel emissions by requiring requiring contractors at city-subsidized developments to use cleaner diesel fuel and to have pollution controls on their vehicles and equipment. The diesel emissions from construction contain over 40 toxic air contaminants, carcinogens, ozone smog-forming compounds, and fine particulate matter (“soot”). Exposure to fine particles is known to cause asthma attacks, heart attacks, lung cancer, strokes, and even premature deaths. It’s estimated that the Clean Air Act will reduce the soot from heavy equipment by 85% or more.

The fund will be added to $920,000 from Allegheny County government now being managed by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Air Management Association. The Coalition funding through the Endowments will extend the reach of the county-wide project, to provide incentives to small construction companies to retrofit pollution-heavy equipment with new technologies. The new funding will allow the program to expand to target additional small construction companies that operate in and around the city of Pittsburgh.

In April, the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2011″ report rated Pittsburgh’s air quality as “the nation’s third most polluted area for short-term particle pollution for the second year in a row.” That was highlighted by Forbes magazine which called Pittsburgh the seventh most polluted city in America. In a report on the fund by WTAE News, Endowments President, Bobby Vagt, emphasized the importance of clean air to our economy:

“The critical item to attract and retain people — the kinds of people that are going to work in technology in Pittsburgh — air quality is absolutely vital,”

Councilman Bill Peduto, who was the prime sponsor of the Clean Air Act, echoed Vagt’s comments:

“What we’re trying to do is show that our economic future is contingent on clean air.”

At the press conference for the announcement, Peduto also referred to the range of support for the legislation. The new regulations were endorsed by unions, community groups, business owners and environmentalists. Each of these interests came together to achieve the goal of improving air quality.

Also supporting cleaner diesel emissions is Google Pittsburgh. From Essential Public Radio:

Andrew Moore, with Google Pittsburgh, said that the company attracts some of the best and brightest in the world, and that mostly Pittsburgh is an easy sell, but, “I kind of draw a blank when the question of air quality comes up, and I have to be transparent about it. I tell them that there’s lots of good things about Pittsburgh, but air quality is still a problem.”

The Breathe Project is trying to combat that problem, but is fighting against the notion that an aggressive clean air plan will cost the region jobs and hurt the economy. Moore said that the strength of the economy, however, is directly tied to a healthy environment, which starts with clean air and water.


Construction vehicles in the snow, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0)image from Arabani’s photostream