Senate Environment Committee Guts Bill to Eliminate Old Diesel Engines

Pressure from industry groups left the Environment Committee with a bill that will do little more than hand out money from the Volkswagen settlement to replace old engines. Sen. Dembrow wanted a tougher bill that would require off-road equipment to register as cars and trucks do, and phase-out the use of outdated diesel engines that poison the air.

The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee managed to pass only a gutted version of a bill to take dirty diesel engines out of Oregon, but chief sponsor Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, remained optimistic that advocates could still reach a better compromise this session in the Senate Rules Committee, where he directed the bill.

The state’s fraud settlement with Volkswagen gave Oregon $72.9 million after the German automaker was found to have lied about its cars’ emissions standards. The hollowed-out Senate Bill 1008 authorizes the Department of Environmental Quality to dispense that money -- providing a carrot to those who would retrofit or replace old diesel engines and vehicles, but no stick to ensure that old, polluting engines are put out of service.

The stripped-down bill led environmental health groups to cry foul: “Our lawmakers keep punting on this issue,” said Chris Hagerbaumer, the deputy director of the Oregon Environmental Council. “We know voluntary incentives are inadequate. Users of old, dirty diesel engines must be given a deadline to clean up their engines, and it must come from our state leadership.”

“Nothing in the bill reduces pollution,” Oregon Environmental Council lobbyist Angela Crowley-Koch told The Lund Report, noting that DEQ would have to spend the settlement money anyway.

The amended bill even stripped out requirements that school buses stop using dirty diesel engines by 2025, which means children could continue to be exposed to these harmful emissions.

Engines manufactured after 2006 emit 95 percent less soot and particulate matter than older engines, and virtually eliminate the risk of cancer from their emissions. California has already mandated that most obsolete engines be phased out of service. If Oregon doesn’t follow suit, it could, in theory, become a dumping ground for all the engines California doesn’t want.

Dembrow told The Lund Report that he thinks the school bus section could be restored to the bill, as well as a prohibition on businesses and local governments buying up and using old diesel engines, exacerbating the problem. “There’s a lot of concern of dirty diesels coming in from other states,” he said.

The original SB 1008 also required that off-road diesel vehicles register with the state, just as on-road vehicles currently do with the Department of Motor Vehicles. This part was also cut out, and instead the bill orders the Department of Environmental Quality to merely conduct an inventory of any and all off-road diesel engines in Oregon.

“My expectation and hope is that the Rules Committee will amend it to something in between” the current version and his original legislation, which did not have enough support to pass outright, Dembrow said. “It still needs work. I didn’t want to send it down to the Ways & Means Committee, because I don’t want this to be the final form.”

Crowley-Koch did not share Dembrow’s optimism that the bill would get better with time: “When you cut down a bill down to nothing, it’s hard to make it better,” she said.

The Senate Environment Committee includes two of the most conservative Republicans in the Senate -- Sen. Alan Olsen of Canby and Sen. Dennis Linthicum of Klamath Falls -- making progressive legislation there difficult to move forward. Dembrow and Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, must also win over moderate Democratic Sen. Arnie Roblan of Coos Bay, the critical swing vote in a district that’s trending Republican and features a lot of blue-collar workers in industries affected by the bill.

“There’s a lot of little rural builders and contractors,” said Roblan. He said that small businesses will take special care to maintain older equipment since they do not have the resources to replace equipment as frequently on their own, putting them at further disadvantage to large contractors if they are forced to stop using old engines. “It puts a lot of them out of business.”

Roblan told The Lund Report he had seen how California’s strict laws had forced a lot of small businesses across the border to merge and consolidate to survive. “I want to make sure we don’t disadvantage some of these places.”

He was less concerned about the effects a mandate would have on larger business, but he said many of these companies were already phasing out their older equipment. Roblan, a former high school principal, said the Volkswagen fund should be sufficient to replace all of the old school buses, with or without a deadline.

One business-friendly compromise Dembrow was willing to make would modify the state’s idling law, keeping a pre-emption against local jurisdictions from enacting their own laws, and relaxing idling limits for newer vehicles while toughening standards for old diesels. “It’s important for trucks to have consistent rules,” he said.

The bill always exempted off-road equipment in the agriculture and forestry industries, as does California. The off-road section was focused on equipment in the construction industry, as well as at airports and seaports.

The amended SB 1008 still directs DEQ to prioritize school-bus replacement over other diesel engines that apply for the Volkswagen money, followed by engines used in areas with poor air quality and then transit buses, garbage trucks and drayage trucks, which move containers from rail terminals to seaports.

Reach Chris Gray at chris@thelundreport.org

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Comments

According to our latest analysis of Vehicles In Operation data from IHS, at the end of 2016, Oregon ranked 16th nationwide for the number of the newest clean diesel trucks on the road- just barely shy of hitting the national average of 30 percent.  That means about 1 in 3 trucks (Class 3-8) in operation in Oregon today are of the newest and lowest-emitting generation of clean diesel - near zero for both NOx and PM, with advanced particulate filters and selective catalytic reduction technology.

Regionally - neighboring states WA ranks 39th, CA 47th, ID at 35th.  

Oregon's trucking needs and configurations might be a whole lot different than California.  Is the threat of a "dumping ground" for California vehicles real or imagined?  The data say it is imagined.