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Back To Diesel Products>Not just blowing smoke: Use of diesel-powered vehicles is in decline


The Kansas City Star

The push is on to rid the country of black smoke-spewing trucks, buses, locomotives and other big diesel equipment.

It will take time. Those things run forever.

“How do you convince somebody to replace a truck that still runs fine?” asked Amanda Graor, senior air quality planner at the Mid-America Regional Council.

So millions are still out there, but the number shrinks every day. Many public agencies and private companies have gone to newer, cleaner-burning vehicles and cleaner fuels. They have also made mechanical changes to existing fleets, such as installing new filters to trap and reduce the nitrogen oxide, particulates and air toxics that health officials say leads to asthma and can worsen heart and lung diseases.

The city of Kansas City, for example, is converting its older public works vehicles to run on compressed natural gas. The city also has put diesel oxidation catalysts on 21 of its “dirtiest” trucks to reduce emissions.

Many private and public trucks now run on cleaner burning, ultra-low sulfur diesel. Some school buses in Lee’s Summit and Blue Springs use auxiliary heaters so the engines won’t have to idle to warm the buses on cold mornings.

In much of the metropolitan area, new rules also prohibit a diesel vehicle from idling more than a few minutes at a time. That means big rigs at truck stops, as well as school buses in loading zones.

Reduction in diesel emission since the Energy Policy Act of 2005 is difficult to quantify because monitors pick up other elements that affect air quality. But Tiffany Drake, an environmental engineer for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, said diesel reduction could be a factor in Kansas City’s cleaner skies.

“The air is clearer, and we expect fewer ozone days,” Drake said last week.

Motor vehicle exhaust, power plant emissions, chemical solvents, gasoline vapors and hot weather contribute to the ozone problem, but officials have long pointed to the black plumes pouring out of heavy equipment as a major health risk, particularly to children and seniors.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that every dollar spent on clean diesel programs produces up to $13 in public health benefits.

While the U.S. economy has expanded, combined emissions of the six common pollutants — including lead, smog and soot — have declined 54 percent since 1990, said EPA spokesman Kris Lancaster. Yet about 127 million Americans still live in places not meeting even one national air quality standard, meaning the areas are “non-attainment.”

Kansas City has met the attainment standard for several years, but environmental officials expect that to change when new, more stringent air quality standards are announced in August.

The new acceptable range is expected to be .060 to .070 parts per million. Kansas City’s average for the period ending in 2009 was .076 ppm.

More new trucks would drop it further. According to the Diesel Technology Forum, new heavy-duty commercial trucks from 2007 to 2009 reduced particulates by 98 percent and nitrogen oxides by 50 percent.

Last year’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included additional funding for the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act. It provided grant money for public and private diesel owners to retrofit older vehicles with “green” improvements, such as diesel particulate filters, auxiliary power and less-resistant tires.

More funds are expected in January, there for the taking, said Graor, although too many are slow to respond.

Taking advantage was a no-brainer for Transway Logistics. The small Lee’s Summit trucking company used federal funds to install farings to improve the aerodynamics of its refrigerated trucks, and to put on low-resistance tires.

“You save fuel, you save money,” said Rich Songer, Transway dispatcher and son of the owner. “Honestly, I don’t think everyone knows about these programs or they would be using it. I mean, it’s available. They’re giving you money to make money.”

On Thursday, the city of Kansas City will open its fourth compressed natural gas (CNG) station to serve the growing number of vehicles that use the alternative fuel, including 35 shuttles at Kansas City International Airport and 19 big public works trucks.

The program is one of the largest in the area, said fleet superintendent Sam Swearngin.

There are disadvantages. CNG requires big, heavy tanks that eat up cargo space and pulling power. Filling up also takes longer.

The city has 10 more big CNG trucks on order.

“Not long ago, those would have been diesel,” Swearngin said Thursday.

To reach Donald Bradley, call 816-234-4182 or send e-mail to

Posted on Tue, Jun. 08, 2010 11:22 PM

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