Council pushes for clean development

July 12, 2010
Legislation calls for contractors in city-subsidized projects to be air-friendly and ‘green’
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
By Joe Smydo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh City Councilman William Peduto, center, listens to one of the speakers at news conference Tuesday outside City Council Chambers about the Clean Air and Clean Water bills.


Legislation sponsored by four Pittsburgh City Council members would require contractors involved in city-subsidized developments to operate air-friendly vehicles and reduce water runoff through the use of green roofs, man-made wetlands and rain gardens.

Council members Bruce Kraus, Bill Peduto, Natalia Rudiak and Doug Shields announced the legislation Tuesday outside the council chamber, with about four dozen environmental, civic and union officials applauding the proposals.

“We shouldn’t be using public dollars to pollute our air and pollute our water,” Mr. Peduto said.

Tony Helfer, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 23, said the proposed Clear Air and Clean Water bills would set “common-sense, responsible” guidelines for spending taxpayer dollars on public projects.

Mr. Peduto said support of at least two other members is needed to push the proposals through council. Mr. Helfer said his union would help him recruit the votes.

Council will hold a public hearing and a post-agenda meeting on the bills, which Mr. Peduto called critical to moving Pittsburgh’s economy forward. He said companies balk at moving to a region with the pervasive air and water pollution that plague Pittsburgh.

“That’s not a strong selling point,” Mr. Peduto said.

The clear air bill would require contractors to use low-sulfur diesel fuel in vehicles operated at city-subsidized project sites. Contractors also would have to install diesel particulate filters on those vehicles.

Mr. Peduto said contractors would end up using the cleaner-running vehicles at privately subsidized project sites, too, giving the bill a wider reach.

Tom Hoffman, Western Pennsylvania director of Clean Water Action, said the legislation is a way for Pittsburgh to counter periodic national reports about poor air quality.

Rather than grumble about the reports, taking a stand is “just … a better way to go,” he said,

The clean water bill would impose tougher guidelines on stormwater runoff at developments built with city money. It would encourage developers to go beyond conventional stormwater management practices and control runoff with green building practices such as green roofs, man-made wetlands, rain gardens and rain harvesting.

Rain gardens are plant-covered depressions that catch water from parking lots and other hard surfaces. Rain harvesting refers to the collection and recycling of rain water.

Though new to Pittsburgh, the legislation isn’t ground-breaking. “It is exactly the same standard that the federal government already mandates for all of its own properties,” Mr. Peduto said.

Mr. Peduto and the other sponsors cast the bills as a way to tackle a variety of environmental-related problems, from river pollution to rising health-care costs.

The city Urban Redevelopment Authority, which oversees city-backed developments, couldn’t be reached for comment on the legislation. Mr. Peduto said he doubted the URA would embrace new conditions for developers.

At 9:30 a.m. today, Mr. Peduto will help launch another environmental initiative, Greener Pittsburgh, which will include an online directory of resources to help residents, organizations and businesses become more environmentally sensitive. The initiative, developed by Greener Expressions, a Lawrenceville company, also will help consumers identify green-friendly companies.

Mr. Peduto and Greener Expressions will kick off the initiative in council’s conference room in the City-County Building.

Joe Smydo: or 412-263-1548.

Read more:


Pittsburgh may require new job site rules

July 12, 2010

More than 200 union members and environmental activists turned out Thursday in support of two City Council bills that would restrict diesel emissions and storm water runoff on city-subsidized development projects.

“When we put our tax dollars into something, the diesel equipment should be cleaner. … And developers should be part of the solution in trying to capture as much water as they can,” said Tom Hoffman, Western Pennsylvania’s director for Clean Water Action.

The legislation would require contractors working on city-subsidized projects to use new or retrofitted equipment to reduce diesel emissions and force developers to incorporate ways to limit the amount of water that runs off the property and into rivers and streams.

Councilman Doug Shields said the “free lunch is over” for developers who take public subsidies.

“If you want a handout, then this is what we require,” Shields said. “I think it’s fair. I think it’s honest.”

Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle said he supports “the intent” of the legislation, but would prefer it apply to all construction within the city, not just projects that receive public funding.

Construction groups say the higher environmental standards could stymie development and put small companies out of business, but they aren’t necessarily opposed to the bills as long as the costs to pay for the retrofitting are taken care of via state and federal grants or tax incentives.

“While the idea of mandating diesel retrofits for construction equipment can help Pittsburgh achieve air quality goals, the truth is that the cost can be prohibitive to contractors without financial or technical assistance,” said Jon O’Brien, a spokesman for the Master Builder’s Association of Western Pennsylvania.

Joanna Doven, a spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said the administration’s concern is “balancing the environmental integrity of our city and economic development.”

“We’ll be open to the legislation, but we also need to learn about how it will affect that development,” Doven said. “We want to know whether the bill will force future projects out of the city.”

Council has scheduled a second public meeting at 1:30 p.m. July 13 in Council Chambers at the City-County Building on Grant Street, Downtown

Unnecessary Idling Prohibited for Diesel Engines

May 14, 2010

Posted by WDUQNews

Off-road diesel vehicles are now barred from idling longer than five minutes in Allegheny County.

Allegheny County Health Department spokesman Guillermo Cole says the new regulation was adopted to cut down on unnecessary emissions from industrial equipment.

“These emissions contain small particles and also toxic air pollutants that can be a big health risk to children, the elderly, and others sensitive to air pollution,” says Cole.

Cole says this rule will mostly apply to construction, mining, and manufacturing vehicles that aren’t meant to drive on the road. He says a similar regulation already prohibits on-road diesel engines from idling longer than five minutes.

A first violation results in a $100 fine. Subsequent citations will each bring a $500 penalty to the person or business. Operators won’t be fined if idling is necessary for the well-being of the vehicle or the driver, or if the equipment is used in an emergency.

Cole says the County’s Board of Health, County Council, and the County Executive approved the rule, after getting input from the construction industry and environmental organizations.

Allegheny County Council Enacts Long-Delayed Off-road Idling Regulation

April 7, 2010

April 7, 2010

Press Statement

Contact: Rachel Filippini, GASP, 412-325-7382 
               Kathy Lawson, Clean Water Action, 412-765-3053 ext. 240




A major step forward in reducing diesel pollution from idling by off- road vehicles, such as construction equipment, was taken by Allegheny Council at last night’s meeting. The newly-adopted regulation, which has been in limbo since its recommendation by the Board of Health in 2007, is strongly supported by the Allegheny County Partnership to Reduce Diesel Pollution

GASP, Clean Water Action, and other interested stakeholders worked with the County Air Quality Program’s Regulation subcommittee to create the off-road idling regulation to reduce diesel pollution from idling construction vehicles and other off-road vehicles.  The Board of Health approved the regulation in the fall of 2007, but County Council and the Chief Executive had not acted on it until now.

“We’re pleased to see that the off-road idling regulation is finally a reality, said Rachel Filippini, executive director of Group Against Smog and Pollution.  Reducing off-road idling is a triple win: protecting human health, safeguarding the environment, and saving money. ”

The regulation says no vehicles or engines subject to this regulation may idle for more than five consecutive minutes, with exemptions for times when idling may be necessary, such as to bring equipment up to proper operating temperature.  The entire regulation can be viewed here:

Vehicles that are subject to the regulation are used in construction, mining, rental, landscaping, recycling, landfilling, manufacturing, warehousing, composting, airport ground support equipment, industrial, and other operations, and must have a horsepower of 25 or greater.  This regulation does not apply to stationary or portable equipment, or equipment or vehicles used in agricultural operations, or equipment at ports or intermodal rail yards.  

Kathy Lawson, policy associate with Clean Water Action stated, “Operators of construction vehicles will benefit the most from these regulations, which will cut down on the amount of toxic diesel emissions being emitted and thus inhaled while on the job.”

In Allegheny County diesel exhaust poses a serious risk to the community’s health and exacerbates global warming.  According to a 2005 report by the Clean Air Task Force, Diesel and Health in America: The Lingering Threat, diesel shortens the lives of 237 Pittsburghers each year, and triggers hundreds of heart attacks and thousands of asthma attacks.  Our children and the elderly are most at risk from the harmful effects of diesel exhaust. 

The diesel campaign is a collaborative effort committed to reducing the health risks posed by diesel pollution.  This comprehensive campaign aims to reduce toxic diesel pollution from a full array of diesel vehicles, including school buses, transit buses, garbage trucks, construction equipment, and locomotives operating in Allegheny County.   More information about our campaign can be found at



A New Bus in Pittsburgh

November 9, 2009

from the Keystone Edge —

A New Bus in Pittsburgh

By: Christine H. O’Toole, 11/5/2009

It sounds like a schoolyard riddle: What’s yellow, all-American, and really, really dirty?
Answer: the good old school bus, spewing diesel exhaust at bus stops and highways all over Pennsylvania.  The problem is being solved, albeit slowly, in Pittsburgh, where in May, the Pittsburgh School District laid down the new law to bus contractors: make your bus engines cleaner by 2013, or you’re off our list.
Evidence shows that dirty diesel harms children’s health, particularly in cities.

Diesel exhaust has been classified a potential human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since 2002. Humans routinely exposed to years of diesel fumes, such as bus drivers and truckers, have a 20 to 50 percent increase in the risk of lung cancer or mortality. In Pittsburgh, where emergency room visits for uncontrolled childhood asthma are four times the national average, there’s a clear connection between air quality and childhood illness.
Each year 2,000 diesel school buses, owned by school districts or private contractors, spew about 12 tons of particulate matter and 367 tons of hydrocarbons into Allegheny County’s atmosphere. It’s part of a big problem. For the three years between 2005 and 2007, the American Lung Association named Pittsburgh the country’s second-worst offender for particulates (behind Los Angeles) and first in year-round particle pollution, ground-level ozone (the primary component of smog) and overall short-term fine particle pollution–the kind produced by diesel engines. With fine particulate pollution that exceeds federal air quality standards, Allegheny County is trying to reduce diesel pollution with a carrot-and-stick approach.
“Pittsburgh’s air is cleaner than it used to be,” says school bus contractor Rick Linder. But he wants it to be even cleaner. Linder’s firm, MIL Transit, is one of the first companies to use the county funds to limit their emissions. “This is important,” he says simply. “It’s about the children.”
When a school district or transportation company spends $100,000 on a shiny new school bus, it meets current clean air standards. The problem is a fleet of aging vehicles. Because their simple, sooty engines chug reliably on, most school buses stay in service for a dozen or more years, each emitting twice the pollution of a tractor-trailer. As states and cities mandate cleaner buses, devices that can be added to older vehicles have debuted nationwide. A diesel particulate filter can be attached to pull fine particulates from the tailpipe, reducing the amount of pollutants released into the air. A closed crankcase ventilation system can keep fumes from seeping into bus cabins.
While those add-ons can reduce emissions to near zero, strapped school districts and bus contractors can’t write the near-$10,000 check required for every bus.
Two local grant programs offered to help bus contractors pay for retrofits. The Heinz Endowments gave $500,000 to a Healthy School Bus Fund to help city bus contractors. The Allegheny County Department of Health offered to pay 75 percent of the cost for most districts in the region. (Buses serving low-income districts, like the city of Pittsburgh, qualified for 100 percent coverage.)  But volunteers for the funds were slow to step forward; by the end of 2008, only four suburban school districts had applied for funds.
Two feisty local citizens’ groups, the Group Against Smog and Pollution and Clean Water Action, mounted a public campaign. They forced the county to pass an anti-idling ordinance for school buses in 2004. Then they organized testimony on the issue from concerned parents and students before the Pittsburgh School Board last March. 
One was Peter Bartholomew, an eighth-grader at Pittsburgh’s private Falk School last year. “I ride the bus back and forth every day. I have asthma and so do a lot of my friends who live in Pittsburgh,” he told board members. “I know that the school board cares about kids and their health and learning, and doesn’t want them to miss school from being sick from asthma.”
The board agreed. On May 27, it told carriers that by the end of 2013-14 year, they have to install diesel particulate filters on at least 85 percent of their diesel-powered vehicles and closed crankcase ventilation systems on all diesel-powered vehicles. The good news is, they won’t have to pay the full cost out of pocket.
Allegheny County’s Clean Air Fund has several sources of funds available for retrofits. Rick Linder’s MIL Transit expects to receive over $300,000 to retrofit 35 vehicles from the fund this year. And the county has other programs to overhaul other diesel engines, including transit buses, dump trucks, waste haulers and rail yard switching equipment.
With a total of 75 fewer vehicles polluting the air, “It’s going to be a good year for diesel retrofits,” says Jim Thompson, director of the air quality program for the Allegheny County Health Department, which oversees the programs. 

Christine H. O’Toole is Keystone Edge’s Innovation and Job News Editor for Western Pennsylvania. Send feedback here.


Rachel Fillippini, executive director of GASP and Kathy Lawson, Policy Associate for Clean Water Action

Children riding the school bus home in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh buses on their way to cleaner emissions

All Photographs by Heather Mull

City to reduce emissions from garbage truck fleet

November 9, 2009

Saturday, October 17, 2009
By Don Hopey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

James Clark has worked as a Pittsburgh garbage and recycling truck driver for just six months but has already sniffed out his 14 favorite vehicles in the 47-truck city fleet.

Those are the trucks that have been retrofitted with pollution controls that reduce the amount of soot emissions by 90 percent.

“As a driver I’m smelling diesel exhaust all day, but with those trucks I don’t. The smoke is cut, the diesel smell is cut, and they run better,” said Mr. Clark, who was at Arsenal Park in Lawrenceville yesterday to hear that the Allegheny County Health Department has received $443,100 to install pollution controls on the other 33 waste hauling trucks.

The money is part of more than $1.2 million in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money Pennsylvania is using to reduce diesel vehicle emissions and improve air quality in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia areas.

With a big blue recycling truck and the Arsenal Park playground as a backdrop, John Hanger, state Department of Environmental Protection secretary, said the truck retrofits will improve the city’s air and the lives of its residents. He cited a recent New England Journal of Medicine study that found soot reductions from 1980 to 2000 had extended the life expectancies of Americans by four months and of Pittsburghers by 10 months.

“It’s just a battle to reduce soot in the air and we have to do it car by car and truck by truck,” Mr. Hanger said. “This money can help make the air and the economy better at the same time.”

Rachel Filippini, executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution, said the federal economic stimulus money is a welcome boost for vehicle retrofit programs in the region.

GASP and another environmental group, Clean Water Action, have led efforts by the Allegheny County Partnership to Reduce Diesel Pollution to retrofit school buses and the city’s trash and recycling diesel truck fleet.

“This is a very important project for the city,” Ms. Filippini said, “not only for residents in the neighborhoods where these trucks idle and run but also for the workers, who will benefit by reduced occupational exposure.”

Diesel-powered waste hauling vehicles and school buses are big contributors to elevated levels of toxic, microscopic airborne particulates, commonly called soot, because of their many stops, idling and restarts in neighborhoods. Each retrofit of a truck will cost approximately $11,000.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said the refuse truck retrofit program is part of an overall city strategy to create a “culture of sustainability” in all city and county departments and neighborhoods.

In Eastern Pennsylvania, the recovery act money will go to retrofit school buses in Adams, Dauphin and Montgomery counties and baggage tractors at the Philadelphia International Airport.

Don Hopey can be reached at or 412-263-1983.

Read more:

National Clean Diesel Funding Assistance Program

October 8, 2009

October 6, 2009 Request for proposals now open.  The RFP closes on December 8th, 2009.  For more information visit

Eligible Applicants:

  • U.S. regional, state, local or tribal agencies/consortia or port authorities with jurisdiction over transportation or air quality
  • Non-profit agencies or institutions that represent or provide pollution reduction or educational services to  people or organizations that own or operate diesel fleets; or have, as their principal purpose, the promotion of transportation or air quality

Eligible Use of Funding:

  • Buses
  • Medium or heavy duty trucks
  • Marine engines
  • Locomotives
  • Non-road engines or vehicles used in: construction, handling of cargo, agriculture, mining, energy production

At least half the funds will be for the benefit of public fleets.  This includes private fleets contracted or leased for public purposes, such as private school buses, refust haulers, or equipment at public ports.