ieBlog

Trump’s climate policies are putting us all at increased, significant risk

At least at the same time he is shooting himself in the foot

Trump (a/k/a T-Rex) has set in motion the destruction of his prized real estate jewel, Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Florida.  The good news for T-Rex is that he will be dead when the destruction occurs, unless Steve Bannon actually possesses evil powers and somehow keeps T-Rex alive, forever.  The bad news is that his kids and grandkids will pay the price.

T-Rex has axed a whole range of Obama environmental-protection regulation and efforts, and he has declared that the US is withdrawing from the Paris Accord.

One axe has fallen on an executive order that Obama issued that required federal agencies to account for sea-level rise and extreme weather events when making grants and plans for building any infrastructure.   The rationale is simple enough.  Why build infrastructure, like bridges and coastal defense systems, for the future unless you build something that will survive changing climate conditions, like sea level rise and extreme weather events.  If you don’t account for such developments, the money spent will be wasted, as will the lives of those who will depend on the protections allegedly offered by such infrastructure.

Another axe is about to fall, and will add to the injuries from the first axe.  The future conditions, that will likely occur and have to be accounted for, are assessed in the US Climate Science Special Report.  The report is currently pending before various federal agencies and the T-Rex White House (or more appropriately, the Dark House).  This Report, and its possible future application, is discussed in some detail in the Reports section of the current issue of irish environment.  The report assesses the current and future impacts from the human-induced climate change that is rapidly unfolding.  In a worse case scenario, it is expected that global mean sea level (GMSL) could rise as high as 8 feet (2.4 m) by 2100.

In another recent study, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has projected a worse case of a 10-12-foot rise in sea level by 2100.  The probability of such extreme rises may be difficult to estimate, but it is disturbing that it can happen, as a result of the unfolding impacts from climate change.  Florida will be most vulnerable to such sea level rises.

 

 

 

 

 

Florida with 10-foot rise

 

 

 

If there is no planning that accounts for the sea level rise, and if the T- Rex administration ignores or undermines the pending Climate Science Special Report, then here is what Mar-a-Lago would look like in 2100, assuming a 10-foot rise.

A fitting watery grave for T-Rex’s real estate jewel.   Unfortunately, all his neighbors will suffer as well.

But does he care?

Sources:

Sarah Frostenson and Eliza Barclay, “Trump axed a rule that would help protect coastal properties like Mar-a-Lago from flooding,” Vox (19 August 2017).  http://bit.ly/2pQ6Z4h

Juliet Eilerin, “The Trump administration just disbanded a federal advisory committee on climate change,” The Washington Post (20 August 2017). wapo.st/2wIsDdG

 

 

 

 

Inequality is bad for the environment

 

And the environment is bad for inequality

 

Inequality impacts on the environment

One way of understanding inequality between countries is by adopting a measure of the ratio between the best-off tenth to the worst-off tenth of the population.  The higher the ratio, the more inequality there is in the country.  In more equal countries there is a more balanced distribution of wealth.  It is not a comparison between rich countries versus poor countries.

Studies have shown that the most unequal affluent countries contribute more to a range of environmental problems than their more equal counterparts.  This is because people in higher unequal countries: produce and consume more, eat more meat per person by weight, waste more energy and heat and water for personal use.  They also contribute more to climate change through their higher emission of carbon dioxide (CO2).   

In more unequal countries, for instance, there are more products that are designed for a short life cycle, which produces greater profits and more waste.  The poor in unequal countries tend to eat cheap fast food, largely meat, in part because it is widely available.  The more affluent in these unequal countries have access to even better meat and lots of it, so that obesity becomes a major health problem.

People in unequal countries, on average, consume more water for personal use, or are more wasteful.  For instance, water consumption per person in the US is 3.5 times higher than in Germany.

In most unequal countries, the “car is king” for transport.  Obesity is a problem not only because of lots of meat but also because the people spend lots of time in their cars.  In the US, for instance, less than 5% cycle or walk to work compared to 50% in the Netherlands.  And the people in unequal countries, like the US and Canada, also consume more than double the amount of gasoline as in other affluent countries.

In general, the more unequal the rich country is, the more CO2 is emitted.  For example, people in the US emit more CO2 than any other of 25 rich countries, with emissions per person twice those of the Japanese and three times those of the French.

While the rich in unequal countries waste heat and power because cost is not determinative of use, the poor in such countries use power inefficiently because they cannot afford to retrofit their homes.

 

Environmental impacts on inequality

The relation between inequality and the environment is a two-way street.  Just as inequality has direct impacts on the environment, the environment, and particularly climate change, can deepen or aggravate inequality.

Generally, a 1% Celsius (C) temperature rise will cost the US economy 1.2 % in lost gross national product (GNP), on average.  But that loss will be felt much more sharply in different parts of the US.  The poorest 100 of the counties in the US will lose on average about 11% of their gross domestic product (GDP) if temperatures increase by 5°C by 2100, based on analysis of impacts on agriculture, crime, coastal storms, energy use, climate-related deaths, and disrupted working conditions.  At the same time, the richest counties in the US are projected to lose only about 1% of their county GDP.

States in the south and lower mid-west are the poorest parts of the US and they will become the warmest parts of the country, leading to increasingly worse heat waves.  Further warming will aggravate the already existing disparity between poor and rich in these states.

While states like Texas, Louisiana and Georgia will feel the adverse impacts from climate change, Florida remains the poster child.   Union County Florida is the poorest county in the state and it is projected to lose 27% of income by 2100, and summer highs will rise from 90° to 95°.  That increase in high temperature is considered a tipping point that will lead to more heat-related deaths, and a drop in labor productivity, as well as more violent crime.

At the same time, states in New England and the pacific north-west, already more economically advantaged than southern states, will experience somewhat warmer conditions that will lead to fewer deaths from cold winters and allow more crops to grow.

Conclusion

One factor in this growing disparity is that in unequal countries the attitude often prevails that people are entitled to do what they want irrespective of the consequences on others, usually less fortunate.  Such an attitude can develop where pay differentials and the highest incomes are quite high and there is often little empathy from those who have toward those who do not.  In effect, the rich assume the power to pollute the environment of poorer people.

We should not be surprised at these impacts as we have seen how inequality is also insidious when it comes to armed conflict.  Security agencies in the US and Europe, and elsewhere, have long understood that: “Poverty reduces the opportunity cost of violence. Scarcity intensifies competition over resources. Inequality pits have-nots against haves. And poor states are weaker — less able to contain conflict once it breaks out.”  See Porter, New York Times.

These lessons seem totally lost on T-Rex (a/k/a Trump) as he is gutting international development aid to poorer countries in favor of arms “deals” at the same time he has announced that the US is withdrawing from the Paris climate change accord.   Both actions will make this earth a more vulnerable place. 

Sources:

Danny Dorling, “Is inequality bad for the environment? From buying stuff to eating meat to wasting water, there is growing evidence that countries with a bigger gap between rich and poor do more harm to the planet and its climate,” The Guardian (4 July 2017).   https://www.theguardian.com/inequality/2017/jul/04/is-inequality-bad-for-the-environment

Oliver Milman, “As if U.S. inequality wasn’t bad enough, climate change is making it worse,” grist (30 June 2017).  grist.org/article/as-if-u-s-inequality-wasnt-bad-enough-climate-change-is-making-it-worse/

Eduardo Porter, “Is a More Prosperous World More Secure? Not as Trump Sees It,” New York Times (11 July 2017).  www.nytimes.com/2017/07/11/business/economy/trumps-security-vision-leaves-little-room-for-plowshares.html

Marlene Cimons, “To solve climate change, solve income inequality,” ThinkProgress (24 May 2017).  thinkprogress.org/economic-inequality-drives-climate-change-economist-finds-ebdbfb3126ca

Brian Kahn, “Climate Change Will Hit the Poorest the Hardest in the U.S.”, Climate Central (29 June 2017). www.climatecentral.org/news/climate-change-economic-damage-us-21582

David Roberts, “The best way to reduce your personal carbon emissions: don’t be rich,” Vox (14 July 2017).
www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/7/14/15963544/climate-change-individual-choices

 

Future of cities: we need more living and work spaces

We need fewer cars

 

Cars are to cities what cows are to the Irish countryside: engines of greenhouse gases (GHGs).  Since over a number of years we have covered the intractable problem of GHGs, especially methane, from cows and other animals in the Irish countryside, we thought it was only fair to focus on the intractable problem of cars in cities.  Currently across the globe over 50% of people live in urban areas (about 62% in Ireland), and 70% are expected by 2050.  And most insist on bringing their car(s) along.

In Ireland, by 2040 there will be more people, many of them older, living in more houses, but with fewer people per house, and with more jobs, mostly high-skilled ones.  Importantly, the growth in houses and jobs will be concentrated in cities or urban areas.  And Ireland remains a car-dependent society with over 2/3 of commuters driving to work and 1/10 spending one hour or more commuting.  That requires a lot of parking facilities and leads to more urban sprawl.  And those cars in congested urban areas will generate tons of toxic fumes, increasing the health risks to urban dwellers.  So planning for the protection of the air quality in such congested areas is paramount for 2040.  See the Report on The Space We Have: Planning for Ireland in 2040 in the May issue of www.irishenvironment.com

For city planning, how do we balance the needs for more living and work spaces for more people in Dublin and other urban areas in Ireland with the need for fewer cars to get from home to work to shop to cultural and recreational activities, and elsewhere.

In Ireland much, if not most, of the talk about city planning is dominated by how high should residential and commercial buildings be: 6 stories, or 8, or 12, or more?   Of course density does not necessarily mean high-rise residential buildings.  It can mean spreading the density out over a horizontal grid with more, lower buildings.  Frank McDonald has suggested that if residential buildings were raised to five or six stories, Ireland could reach European-styled densities of 160-200 housing units per hectare.  See Comiskey in The Irish Times.

 

Density and “high” rise are relative terms.  In Manhattan New York, the newer residential up-market towers are 65 to 95 floors high; in Dublin a high rise might entail 7 – 10 stories.   While such NY high rises would suggest increased density for Manhattan, that’s not a simple equation.  For the up-market high-rises are quite large, with several thousand square feet of living space for perhaps 2 – 4 people, so not many people are cramming into these spaces.  Moreover, these residences also are not the primary residence for many occupants but often serve as a simple pied-a-terre (at cost of $25 to $90 million, with as high as $5,000 per square foot!), visited occasionally throughout the year.

But density may not be the critical condition that defines whether cities are livable or not; it may be how cars are treated.   There are numerous local and national governments  around the world planning or implementing ways of reducing the concentration of cars in their cities by restricting their access, or banning them outright, or by taxing or charging them for using the city, or limiting their parking spaces.  These are so-called “car-limiting strategies.” But trying to just hide or ban cars may not be enough as people still have to get from place to place within the city.  So before banning or restricting cars, it will be necessary to provide the infrastructure and facilities that lessen or eliminate the need for cars.

In a recent blog post in grist, Henry Grabar explores the unavoidable challenge of fighting cars if cities want to honor the Paris Accord and reduce GHGs.  As he bluntly states: “Want to fight climate change?  You have to fight cars.”  In large cities cars account for about a third of GHGs.  And an imperative within this fight is to reduce vehicle miles traveled.  Which in turn suggests that we have to build residences and businesses close to public transport, and to each other.  And to do that, you cannot escape confronting the need for more density in cities.  If we ignore these connected dots, we end up with Apple building a new Green headquarters in California powered by renewable energy but with 11,000 parking spaces.

Laura Bliss, also in grist, reinforces the need to concentrate on cutting vehicle miles travelled (VMT) and how that means that we will have to walk, bike or take public transit to work and play, and that in turn means building more dense residences near jobs, shops and shared transportation options.  Shared transportation, or shared mobility, can include shared cars or small, sometimes automatic driven shuttle services providing transport for that last mile between home and job or public transportation or recreational and cultural facilities.  It does not mean relying on Uber and similar services for a selected population.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recently, David Roberts in vox has published a series of posts covering a conversation on urbanism he had with Brent Toderian, former Chief Planner for Vancouver.  The first post is titled, “Making cities more dense always sparks resistance. Here’s how to overcome it.”

Vancouver has learned that density can include greater height in existing urban areas or multi-family units in formerly single-family areas or units along back lanes and alleys.  Importantly it can mean extending public transit to new areas.  Or all of the above.

 

 

 

 

 

Laneway house in Vancouver

Toderian argues that change in land use is often troubling and there will always be some who oppose change, the Not in My Back Yard (NIMBY) argument, just like there will always be developers who want to get rid of government regulation and build as much as they can, the build-baby-build cadre.  See Interview with Oisín Coghlan in the current issue of www.irishenvironment.com

Both arguments can be countered by density that has a very high design quality, what Toderian calls QIMBY, “quality in my back yard,” with a diversity of housing types.  Such development must, at the beginning, be multimodal with emphasis on walking, biking, and transit.  It cannot be centered on use of cars.   And the dense development must include amenities that make living in such neighborhoods enjoyable and even exciting.  Amenities include parks and green spaces, public and people spaces, heritage preservation and community and cultural facilities, and places for teenagers to hang out.

To support many of the amenities, Toderian has used “density bonusing” whereby regulations set a base density for areas and a developer can increase to a higher density in exchange for building amenities that the community wants and needs, not basic services.

And when you have done all you can to accommodate as many as possible, Toderian argues that you just have to stand up to the anger of the few.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

car free Oslo

Or perhaps adjust your plans.  In Oslo, Norway, the car-limiting strategy was first to ban cars downtown, where about 88% of people did not own a car.  But the automobile lobby fought vehemently against the ban.  So Oslo has decided to limit vehicle movement through the city center by removing all parking spots and converting these spaces into installations and public spaces, for playgrounds, cultural events, benches, bike parking , a beer garden, and an e-bench with wi-fi and charging capabilities.  Then the city will close some streets to vehicle traffic and build 40 miles of bike lanes.  If these efforts fail to slash carbon emissions, then the city will go back to the original plan for an all-out car ban.

So regardless of how high the buildings get, don’t forget about those pesky GHG-vehicles on street level.

 

Sources

Henry Grabar, “If cities really want to fight climate change, they have to fight cars,” grist (16 June 2017).  grist.org/article/if-cities-really-want-to-fight-climate-change-they-have-to-fight-cars/

Laura Bliss, “5 ways cities can fight climate change – with or without the Paris deal,” grist (1 June 2017).
5 ways cities can fight climate change — with or without the Paris deal

David Roberts, “Lessons on urbanism from a Vancouver veteran: A conversation with city-maker Brent Toderian,” vox (20 June 2017).
www.vox.com/2017/6/20/15828464/urbanism-brent-toderian

Here are the conversations between Roberts and Toderian:

David Roberts, “Making cities more dense always sparks resistance. Here’s how to overcome it,” vox (20 June 2017).  www.vox.com/2017/6/20/15815490/toderian-nimbys

David Roberts, “Young families typically leave cities for the suburbs. Here’s how to keep them downtown,” vox (21 June 2017).
www.vox.com/2017/6/21/15815524/toderian-families-cities

David Roberts, “Dense urbanism is great for downtowns. But what about suburbs?”, vox (23 June 2017).
www.vox.com/2017/6/23/15815510/toderian-suburbs

Justin Comiskey, “Dublin’s development plan short on density,” The Irish Times (17 Nov 2016).
www.irishtimes.com/business/commercial-property/dublin-s-development-plan-short-on-density-1.2867636

Henry Grabar, “Apple Says Its New Headquarters Could Be the Greenest Building in the World. Not With 11,000 Parking Spaces!”, Slate (12 April 2017).  www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2017/04/12/apple_says_its_new_headquarters_is_the_greenest_building_in_the_world_not.html

Eillie Anzilotti, “If You Can’t Ban Cars Downtown, Just Take Away The Parking Spaces,” FastCompany (23 June 2017).  www.fastcompany.com/40434409

 

Trump was going to ignore or undermine the Paris Climate Accord, whether he stayed or left

Why it will be best for everyone else now that he is leaving

 

The climate deal, under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), was reached in Paris in December 2015.  The Paris Accord took effect on 4 November 2016 and all 195 countries that participated in the talks, including the US under Obama, have signed it and made commitments to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs).
 
While there are no legally binding targets set by the terms of the Accord, as there were in the Kyoto Protocol, it was recognized that the “commitments” are real and countries intended to abide by them.  They are promises.  Moreover, the process included a provision that every five years there is a mandatory review process with the expectations that each country will attempt to increase its commitment since climate change increasingly presents significant risks and the original commitments in 2016 will not suffice to keep climate temperatures from rising beyond any reasonable limit.  More is needed, not less, as time goes by.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite the fact that the Paris Accord commitments are voluntary, David Roberts acknowledges: “That doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. Public pledges are a powerful driver. They can spur and organize domestic policy. Failure to live up to them can bring reputational damage.”
 
Unfortunately, the legal and political implications of the Accord are meaningless to Trump.  It is clear that Trump had no intention of doing anything to help reduce GHGs, whether he stayed with the Accord or rejected it.  Everybody knows that.   So today, June 1, 2017, he announced he is withdrawing from the Paris Accord.
 
Even before he withdrew, any questions about the US commitment to the Paris Accord was met with the mantra:  “The administration is reviewing existing policies and regulations in the context of a focus on strengthening U.S. economic growth and promoting jobs for American workers, and will not support policies or regulations that have adverse effects on energy independence and U.S. competitiveness.”   David Roberts’ assessment is: “In other words, ‘bugger off’.”
 
If Trump stayed with the Accord, it is most likely he would have done so only under the pretext that he was going to re-negotiate a BETTER DEAL for AMERICA.  Or he would have stayed and simply spit in the face of the Accord by openly ignoring the US commitment.
 
In any case, it is clear that Trump does not and will not accept the premises on which the Accord is founded.   Haven’t we had enough of him?
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If he chose to stay, the options for retaliation for his essential rejection of the Accord’s purpose and goal were limited.  If some countries, despite their best on-going efforts to comply with their commitments were unable to do so, the other signatories would be reluctant to take any punitive action, even name-and-shame, against them.  At that point the US could have argued it could not be singled out for not meeting its commitment.
 
A clean break by Trump, or with Trump, offers some advantages for global climate change progress.  It will be more honest and a clearer battle line now that he has exited the Accord.  At least the other signatories to the Accord, including the EU, China and India and developing countries, can consider counter-actions against the Trump-led US.  These might include trade sanctions, including a carbon tax on US exports, always a risky business, but it might also free the others to imagine and implement other punitive sanctions.  
 
And it is likely that the remaining signatories to the Accord will proceed with their commitments, as technologic developments, especially with renewable energy sources and distribution systems, will have a major impact on the extent to which the Paris Accord commitments become realized.  It would seem to be in the self-interest of China and India, regardless of what the US does not do, to move to renewable energy just to save its citizens from the toxic air impacts of burning fossil fuels.
 
So let Trump suffer whatever consequences the remaining signatories can devise for his withdrawal.  As for any demand for a renegotiation of the Paris DEAL, that demand should be immediately rejected out of hand.
 
The EU is quickly learning how to do without Britain.  Time for the international community to learn how to deal without Donald Trump. 
 
 
 
Sources
 
David Roberts, “ Bannon is pulling one over on Trump. There is zero reason to exit the Paris climate accord,” Vox (8 May 2017). 
www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/5/7/15554286/paris-climate-accord-exit-bannon
 
Natasha Geiling, “America’s tragic fall from international climate leader to global embarrassment,” Think Progress (12 May 2017).
thinkprogress.org/paris-trump-tragedy-b3f4202ac498

Rebecca Leber, “What the Hell Is Going on With Trump’s Delay on the All-Important Paris Decision?  Ivanka saves the world? Hah,” Mother Jones (10 May 2017). www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/05/ivanka-Pruitt-paris-agreement-duel

Brad Plumer, “Can the Paris Climate Deal Survive a Trump-Style Renegotiation?” The New York Times (26 May 2017). www.nytimes.com/2017/05/26/climate/can-the-paris-climate-deal-survive-a-trump-style-renegotiation.html

Michael D. Shear and Coral Davenport, “World Leaders Increase Pressure on Trump to Stay in the Paris Accord,” The New York Times (26 May 2017). www.nytimes.com/2017/05/26/world/europe/paris-climate-agreement-trump-g7.html

Marianne Lavelle, “China, India to Reach Climate Goals Years Early, as U.S. Likely to Fall Far Short,” inside climate news (16 May 2017).insideclimatenews.org/news/15052017/china-india-paris-climate-goals-emissions-coal-renewable-energy

Chandra Bhushan, “Why the US should quit the Paris Agreement,” Down to Earth (India) (15 Dec 2016). www.downtoearth.org.in/news/why-the-us-should-quit-the-paris-agreement-56473

 

EDITOR’S NOTE:  An earlier version of this ieBLOG appeared on the morning of June 1st before Trump made his announcement of withdrawing from the Paris Accord.  This version reflects that decision made at 3pm June 1st, NY time.

STOP SMOKING DIESEL TRUCKS

An example of and model for an enforcement operation against polluting diesel trucks

ClientEarth has aggressively fought to force the UK government to comply with its legal obligations under EU air laws.  Those breaches of EU law are putting the people of London and many other UK cities at risk from the toxic pollutants discharged in the emissions of diesel vehicles, as well as from other sources.  A recent study reveals that nearly 40 million people living in UK towns and villages are being exposed to unlawful levels of toxic air pollution from diesel vehicles.

Besides the kind of litigation being brought by ClientEarth against the recalcitrant UK government, we need to figure out what other enforcement measures can be brought to bear against this risk.  Here is an example, perhaps a model, for aggressive enforcement action against polluting diesel trucks that can lessen the loadings of diesel exhausts threatening people in cities.  While the example is from New York, some of the elements of the enforcement can be adapted to cities across the EU and beyond.

The Stop Smoking Trucks Initiative

Outdoor air pollution, from local sources as well as from distant, regional sources, causes or aggravates a host of health effects including heart and respiratory conditions, especially asthma.  One of the major sources of air pollution, and a significant contributor to health risks in urban areas, is the emission from diesel trucks.

Asthma is widely recognized as one of America’s fastest growing chronic diseases, affecting more than 20 million people.  Exposure to particulate matter and ozone in outdoor air can trigger or contribute to asthma attacks, as can exposure to organophosphate pesticides and other pollutants in indoor air. Note 1.  In New York City, asthma, as measured by hospitalization rates, presents serious risks especially to children under the age of 14 in low-income areas.  Hardest hit are areas of northern Manhattan and southern Bronx, where in some neighborhoods hospitalization rates for asthma reach 167 per 10,000 people, over five times the national average of 31 per 10,000.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) developed an enforcement plan to address the environmental risks associated with smoking diesel trucks throughout the city, especially in low-income communities that have been disproportionately impacted by pollution.  Note 2.

Studies conducted by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC) of travel to and from the Manhattan Central Business District (CBD) indicated that there are approximately 10,000 truck trips through the East Harlem community each work day.

Under New York State law — Smoke Opacity Standards For Heavy Duty Diesel-Fueled Vehicles (HDDV) — it is illegal for diesel trucks of certain sizes to emit black smoke above certain levels. Note 3. Smoke opacity instruments measure optical properties of diesel smoke, providing an indirect way of measuring of diesel particulate emissions.  The smoke meters are easy to use in the field.  If the truck emits levels higher than permitted, a ticket is issued with fines.  Note 4.

To reduce the pollution from diesel trucks in low-income communities, DEC created a pilot project for an initiative in East Harlem in New York City.  DEC has its own police department that enforces environmental laws and one of the duties of the officers was to look for smoking diesel trucks, pull them over, test for violations of the opacity rules and issue tickets, when appropriate.  Thus, DEC officers already had responsibility for pulling over trucks, they had the training to spot and test for smoking trucks, and they had the equipment and training for testing.

The initiative involved converting the pullover operations from random acts of enforcement to scheduled and concentrated pullovers.  About 12 DEC police cars were assigned pullover operations on the four streets in East Harlem that carry truck traffic, and where the asthma rates were elevated.  They deployed each morning for several hours for several days a week for a month at locations which were identified as heavy in truck traffic and had sufficient space to pull trucks over, inspect and ticket.

The pullover was operated for several hours each day over several days, at different times of the day because soon after these pullovers are initiated, truck drivers communicate with each other and issue warnings about the police action.

In this initiative, DEC invited New York Mayor Bloomberg’s Office on Long-Term Sustainability (and the City’s Department of Environmental Protection-DEP) to collaborate by patrolling the same areas where a pullover operation was implemented and issue tickets to any trucks violating the City’s truck idling law.  At the same time the DEC officers issued tickets to idling trucks under the state law.  Idling trucks are another significant source of air pollution in these asthma-high neighborhoods. Note 5.

DEC also invited several environmental groups, WE ACT for Environmental Justice and the Go Green East Harlem Initiative, as well as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to help design and assess the project and provide connections to the local communities.

DEC officers pulled over every 3rd or 4th truck for inspection, as well as any trucks that were obviously emitting black, polluting smoke.  The attempt was to gather sufficient data from a random field test to estimate the percentage of trucks that were in violation of the law.

In this pilot project, DEC law-enforcement officers pulled over and inspected 361 diesel trucks and issued 163 tickets for various violations of state air and safety regulations. The officers also issued 10 tickets for excessive idling. New York City DEP issued 33 tickets for idling trucks.

Based on that operation, DEC estimated that close to 20 percent of the trucks traveling the area are out of compliance with state air regulations. With transportation studies showing there are approximately 10,000 trucks travelling daily through this corridor, that means that there could be nearly 2,000 trucks emitting illegal levels of pollutants every workday in East Harlem.

Following the pilot project, DEC implemented the Stop Smoking Trucks pullover operation in environmental justice communities in every borough of New York City as well as every one of the DEC nine regions state-wide.

Conculsion

The question now is whether any such enforcement action like the Stop Smoking Trucks initiative could be replicated in European cities.  The simple answer is: You’ll never know until you try.

What made the project quite successful was that:

there was an existing statutory prohibition against emitting black smoke above certain levels for diesel trucks of a certain size;

the DEC officers were already trained in pullover operations and use of smoke meters;

issuing tickets for violation of smoke rules was already part of the officers normal activities, and the initiative merely concentrated that activity in one spot at one time;

there was no need for new staff or equipment;

the biggest burden was for the DEC police managers to schedule the staff and equipment for each pullover operation.

Most EU Member States, or regional or local governments, have car stops to check for drivers’ license, insurance, car taxes, or drinking.  So a precedent already exists for pulling over vehicles and conceptually all that is needed is another layer of the inspection for health and environment considerations.

There may be existing rules and laws setting standards for levels of pollution from diesel trucks.  If there are not, isn’t it time for some.  All that is needed is a simple law prohibiting diesel trucks from emitting levels of black smoke, and then enforcement through some training and simple equipment.

A recent study has shown that in London a significant source of air pollution is from construction sites, and in particular the diesel diggers, generators and other machines operating at such sites.  While waiting for green technology to replace some of the polluting equipment, London’s mayor is planning on introducing a fine, like the congestion charge, to be paid by firms using polluting machines.

Should such a fine be enacted, it does not take a lot of imagination to envision an enforcement program that uses existing building inspectors to monitor and enforce such a rule as part of their day-to-day responsibilities.

Similar possibilities exist for taking action against polluting diesel trucks on the streets of the European cities.

 

Notes

Note 1. A Study of Ambient Air Contaminants and Asthma in New York City (NYS DOH  for NYSERDA and ATSDR, May 2006) found a positive correlation between certain contaminants (PM2.5, SO2, O3 and NO2) and acute asthma visits to emergency rooms in the Bronx.

Note 2. The initiative took place in 2007-09 and all rules and regulations apply to that period

Note 3.  Roadside emissions inspections and heavy duty diesel emission (opacity) standards are provided for in 6 New York Codes, Rules and Regulations (NYCRR) Subpart 217, at §§217-5.2(c) and 217-5.3  govt.westlaw.com/nycrr/Browse/Home/NewYork/NewYorkCodesRulesandRegulations?guid=Ib4ec9020b5a011dda0a4e17826ebc834&originationContext=documenttoc&transitionType=Default&contextData=(sc.Default)

Note 4.  Enforcement and penalties. govt.westlaw.com/nycrr/Document/I4e8f9f14cd1711dda432a117e6e0f345?viewType=FullText&originationContext=documenttoc&transitionType=CategoryPageItem&contextData=(sc.Default)

Note 5. New York City and New York State have restrictions on the length of time that a vehicle engine may lawfully idle.  Under the New York City Air Code, applicable throughout New York City, motor vehicle engines may lawfully idle for no more than 3 minutes.  N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 24-163.  The New York State Air Code, applicable throughout the State (including New York City), limits the lawful idling of heavy duty vehicle engines to 5 minutes.  6 N.Y.C.R.R. § 217-3.2.      govt.westlaw.com/nycrr/Browse/Home/NewYork/NewYorkCodesRulesandRegulations?guid=Ib572b010b5a011dda0a4e17826ebc834&originationContext=documenttoc&transitionType=Default&contextData=(sc.Default)

 

Sources

“Nearly 40 million people live in UK areas with illegal air pollution,” The Guardian (22 Apr 2017).  www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/apr/22/nearly-40-million-people-live-in-uk-areas-with-illegal-air-pollution

Mel Evans, “10 Things You Need to Know about SMMT’s 10 ‘Facts’ about Diesel,” Greenpeace UK (19 April 2017). www.greenpeace.org.uk/blog/climate/10-things-you-need-know-about-smmts-10-facts-about-diesel

“German court orders diesel ban as UK court case looms,” Client Earth (18 Sept 2016).  linkis.com/www.clientearth.org/zU8Eq

Joey Gardiner, “How to stop the construction industry choking our cities,” The Guardian (20 April 2017). www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/apr/20/air-pollution-construction-industry-cities-diesel-emissions-london