WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency issued stringent new rules Friday 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 Johnson told reporters in a telephone news conference Friday. “Over the last century, diesels have been America’s economic workhorse, and through this rule, an economic workhouse 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 Friday’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.
“Every major metropolitan area in the country will benefit from the huge emissions reductions expected from this long-awaited rule,” said William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. “We estimate the emissions benefits will be equivalent to taking three-quarters of a million diesel trucks off the road each year. 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 diesel engine and combustion systems on newly built trains and ships. By 2014 marine engine manufacturers must treat their exhaust through technological improvements, and a year later locomotive engine makers 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. “Through the ingenuity of the domestic manufacturers, we believe they can achieve these aggressive but practical standards,” he said.