A smattering of landfill operators and garbage haulers in Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Wisconsin will be upgrading or replacing equipment at relative bargain prices thanks to a federal program aiming to rid the nation of older and dirtier diesel engines.
Those selected are among 21 broad projects funded across the country this year by $8 million in grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA) program. DERA, in existence since 2008, also targets school buses, trains, ships, long-haul trucks, and construction and farm machinery.
DERA grants focus on communities that are not in compliance with Clean Air Act requirements. The EPA dollars are paired with local money from operators and haulers to meet project costs.
That’s why Angela Tin, vice president of environmental health for the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest, is elated about partnering with the American Lung Association of the Southeast to secure a DERA grant of $626,419 to help residents of Fort Myers, Fla., and Spartanburg, S.C., inhale more deeply. Initially, money will go toward replacing eight diesel-powered refuse haulers—six operated by Waste Management in Spartanburg and two by the City of Fort Myers Solid Waste Division—with trucks outfitted with compressed natural gas (CNG) technology.
“Our mission is to protect lung health,” Tin says. “Mobile source emissions are the biggest part of the problem, so if we’re not going after them, we’re not accomplishing our mission.”
While efficient, diesel engines emit air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter that are linked to asthma, respiratory ailments, lung and heart disease, and premature death, says EPA spokeswoman Christie St. Clair. The agency estimates that every dollar in DERA funding generates up to $13 in health care savings.
Pollutants in diesel exhaust contribute to urban smog, acid rain, poor air quality and decreased visibility, says John Rodgers, director of environmental initiatives for the nonprofit Leonardo Academy in Madison, Wis. On average, he adds, a vehicle fueled by CNG will emit 100 percent fewer sulfur oxides, 75 percent fewer nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, and 20 percent fewer greenhouse gases than a similar diesel truck.
Leonardo Academy received $951,457 in DERA grants as part of its coalition-driven initiative to put the Midwest on a diesel diet. Of that, $50,000 is earmarked for a Wisconsin branch of Advanced Disposal to replace two diesel refuse haulers with CNG alternatives. The trucks provide residential service in Dane County, where Madison is located.
Advanced Disposal, headquartered in Ponte Vedra, Fla., is transitioning to a CNG infrastructure because of the environmental and safety benefits, says spokeswoman Mary Middleton O’Brien. The EPA grant is a crucial piece of that multi-million dollar investment, she adds.
A separate $30,000 is designated for the eastern Wisconsin division of La Crosse-based Harter's Quick Clean-Up. The company will replace one diesel-powered residential trash hauler serving Green Bay with a CNG model.
The Charlotte region of North Carolina scored $500,000 from DERA to help the eight-county area comply with federal standards for ground-level ozone. Almost 40 percent of emissions of nitrogen oxide, the precursor to ozone, came from heavy-duty equipment operated at landfills and other non-road facilities, according to a Mecklenburg County inventory in 2012.
“We want the most cost-effective reductions,” says Shelley Lanham, senior air quality specialist with Mecklenburg County Air Quality. “These grants tip the scales enough to make the upfront costs less of a burden.”
Lanham’s agency has identified 63 publically- and privately-owned solid waste facilities that are eligible to apply for funding. The EPA money, combined with financial contributions from the participants, will cover expenses to replace three pieces of landfill equipment and upgrade the diesel engines in four others. Machines such as trash compactors, bulldozers, excavators, scrapers and grinders fit the bill because they have giant powerful engines that operate on a regular basis.
“One reason we wanted to do non-road projects this time is because everybody everywhere has solid waste handling equipment,” Lanham says. “If we can prove that we can clean up these public and private fleets, this can be applied anywhere in the nation.”
Since DERA’s inception seven years ago, EPA has awarded more than 700 grants to 600 communities.
Tin, the American Lung Association applicant, is hoping that enough federal funding can be juggled in the next several months to cover an additional four CNG trash trucks in Spartanburg, bringing the total there to 10.
“We’re not just talking about replacing engines, we’re actually doing it,” Tin emphasizes. “And the faster we get it done, the faster the reductions happen.”