By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 3, 2007
The Environmental Protection Agency issued stringent new rules yesterday curbing harmful emissions from diesel locomotive and marine engines.
Over the next quarter-century the regulations -- which cover 40,000 marine vessels and nearly 21,000 diesel locomotives -- will cut these engines' annual emissions of nitrogen oxide, a key ingredient in smog, by 80 percent and fine particulate matter, or soot, by 90 percent.
EPA officials estimated that by 2030 the health benefits associated with the new standards will outweigh the costs by 20 to 1, preventing 1,500 premature deaths and 1,100 hospitalizations a year.
"By tackling the greatest remaining source of diesel emissions, we're keeping our nation's clean-air progress moving full steam ahead," EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson told reporters in a telephone news conference yesterday. "Over the last century, diesels have been America's economic workhorse, and through this rule, an economic workhorse is also becoming an environmental workhorse."
The federal government has already tightened diesel emissions from cars, sport-utility vehicles, trucks and non-road vehicles, prompting Johnson to call yesterday's rule "the last piece of this clean-diesel puzzle." Last year, the EPA revised its estimates for diesel train emissions and concluded that, without further action, these locomotives would generate nearly twice as much pollution in 2030 as administration officials previously projected.
Environmentalists praised the administration's decision. William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said diesel locomotive emissions rank as the largest remaining uncontrolled source of pollution in the Washington area.
"Every major metropolitan area in the country will benefit from the huge emissions reductions expected from this long-awaited rule. We estimate the emissions benefits will be equivalent to taking three-quarters of a million diesel trucks off the road each year," Becker said. "EPA deserves a 'thumbs-up' for this proposal."
Richard Kassel, a senior attorney who works on fuel and vehicle issues for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group, said the engines covered by the regulations emit pollution equivalent to 150 coal-fired power plants. The new rules will cover all diesel trains in the United States, as well as ferries, tugboats and yachts, but not the foreign ships that make up the majority of ships in U.S. ports.
"Living near a rail yard or port is like living near the dirtiest of coal-fired power plants," Kassel said.
Initially, the regulations call for manufacturers to meet stricter standards on existing engines when overhauling them. By 2009 they must modify newly built diesel train and ship engine and combustion systems. By 2014 marine engine manufacturers must treat their exhaust through technological improvements, and a year later makers of locomotive engines must do the same.
General Electric, the country's largest locomotive engine manufacturer, had opposed the new rules on the grounds that they were not technically feasible. A GE spokesman did not return calls seeking comment.
Johnson said, however, that he was confident the nation's train and ship manufacturers could meet the stricter standards over time. "Through the ingenuity of the domestic manufacturers, we believe they can achieve these aggressive but practical standards," he said.