Success: new rules that clean up dirty diesel

Exhaust from outdated diesel engines is a major air pollutant

EDF's Andy Darrell talks with workers

Our New York regional director Andy Darrell (right) helped launch retrofit programs to clean up old diesel engines like these at Ground Zero.

While cars have been subject to pollution limits for more than 30 years, rules for diesel engines lagged far behind. On streets and in ports across the country, heavy trucks belching thick, dark smoke remained a common sight.

Way back in 2000, we set out to reduce the health threats from under-regulated diesel pollution.

Building support for range of cleaner engines

At that time, our attorney was often the lone environmentalist among industry representatives on an EPA diesel advisory panel.

But we found allies, demonstrated the health risks of diesel pollution, built support in industry and, when necessary, took EPA to court. We joined with the American Lung Association and other powerful allies for these successes:

  • In 2001, we won strict pollution limits on heavy-duty trucks and buses.

  • In 2004, we helped secure safer standards for non-road vehicles, including construction and farm equipment.

Because of this work, new engines will be cleaner. But old diesel engines can remain in service for years. So we also secured federal funding and helped launch retrofit programs to clean up existing vehicles in California, New York City and Texas.

Work still remained, particularly on waterways and railways:

  • In 2008, international standards cut diesel pollution from new oceangoing vessels by 80 to 90%. We played a pivotal role in the victory, helping convince Congress to pass legislation that allowed the United States to join the international treaty that requires the cleanup.

  • Also in 2008, we helped win new EPA rules that cut soot and smog-forming pollution from diesel barges, ferries and trains.

  • In 2010, we helped establish the North American Emission Control Area (ECA), which provides the most protective clean air standards available under international law to address shipping emissions within 200 miles of the U.S. coastline.

Cleaner air pays off in better health

Together, these regulations are preventing tens of thousands of deaths and hospitalizations each year. The billions of dollars in public health benefits far outweigh the costs of controlling pollution.

“From trucks to bulldozers, trains and commercial ships, our nation is undertaking a bold transition,” says EDF general counsel, Vickie Patton. “Our children should grow up in a world where diesel engines no longer churn out black plumes of smoke.”

drayage trucks at port

Cleaning Houston’s ports

An EDF-supported program lets Houston port truck drivers trade in for newer models. It will prevent thousands of tons of air pollution from being emitted.

See how this program cleans the air »

Cleaner Diesel Handbook

Download the Cleaner Diesel Handbook for more information on how retrofits can cut harmful diesel soot emissions by over 90%.

PDF Cleaner Diesel Handbook Adobe Reader [PDF]