Dirty trucks in port targeted

Program offers grants to help owners replace vehicles

  • A new partnership aims to get the oldest, most polluting short-haul trucks serving the Port of Baltimore off the road by providing down payments and other incentives to truck owners to replace their old vehicles with newer, cleaner models. Atlantic Nationwide Trucking in Sparrows Points runs a fleet of about 20 short-haul "dray" trucks taking freight in and out of the Port of Baltimore.
A new partnership aims to get the oldest, most polluting short-haul… (Jed Kirschbaum, Baltimore…)
July 17, 2011|By Timothy B. Wheeler, The Baltimore Sun

With more than a million miles on the road, Armand Patella's 19-year-old Ford 9000 truck has seen better days.

But he's hung onto it, because new trucks aren't cheap. Patella, the head of Picorp trucking service on East Lombard Street, still uses the 1992 vehicle to move empty or lightly loaded containers around the port of Baltimore. 

"It's had a new engine or two," Patella said last week, "but it's paid for."

Now, though, a program aimed at making the community's air healthier to breathe is encouraging Patella and other short-haul truck operators serving the port to trade in their soot-belching clunkers for newer, cleaner vehicles.

Starting with more than $3 million in federal funds, the University of Maryland and air quality officials in four states are teaming up to offer subsidies and financial incentives to replace older short-haul trucks serving four Mid-Atlantic ports — the others being Philadelphia, Wilmington, Del., and Hampton Roads, Va.

Organizers hope to nearly double that amount with other public and private funding so they can replace hundreds of the most polluting delivery trucks over the next two years.

"We no longer want our ports to be the place where old trucks go to die," Joanne Throwe, director of the University of Maryland environmental finance center, said in a statement. "It's not just the air around the port that suffers — it's the routes the trucks follow throughout the region."

Under the program, owners of short-haul or "dray" trucks built before 2003 are eligible for grants of up to $15,000 toward a newer vehicle — though preference for now is being given to those vehicles with engines made before 1998.

The older trucks must be scrapped, but the value of the scrap metal can also be applied to the purchase. The program, run in partnership with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Air Management Association, a group of state air pollution regulators, also is helping to arrange favorable financing for the truckers.

The effort comes in the wake of sweeping truck replacement initiatives at some of the nation's largest ports, on the West Coast and in the Northeast. Older, polluting trucks have been banished from shipping terminals in Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., New York and New Jersey, where authorities have offered substantial financial aid for owners of old trucks to buy newer ones.

There's no age limit now on vehicles at the port of Baltimore, where about 3,000 trucks roll in and out daily — nor is such a restriction imminent, according to Richard Scher, spokesman for the Maryland Port Administration. But he said officials are interested in doing what they can, within budget constraints, to reduce the port's contribution to the area's air quality problems.

Though air quality here has generally improved over the past two decades, ozone and fine-particle pollution still reach unhealthful levels at times. The American Lung Association gave Baltimore and Baltimore County, where the port's terminals are, mostly failing grades in its latest annual "state of the air" report card.

Jay Apperson, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said state regulators have never assessed the health risks posed by the port's pollution. When all the emissions from ships, trucks and equipment operating at the various terminal facilities are combined, though, he said they're roughly on par with that coming from the smokestack of a power plant.

Air-quality studies done several years ago around the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach found elevated asthma rates and increased cancer risks in communities surrounding those bustling facilities.

Ozone and particle pollution, two byproducts of diesel exhaust, can cause shortness of breath and other breathing problems, and inhaling fine particles also has been linked to heart problems, diabetes and premature death.

"All ports around the country have the same issues," said Morgan Wyenn, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in California. The levels of pollution and health risks are a function of the port's size and proximity to people, she said, but those byproducts of the growth in global trade often get overlooked.

In Southern California, environmental group lawsuits and political pressure prompted officials three years ago to ban pre-1989 trucks. The prohibition was extended last year to pre-1994 models, and trucks made between 1994 and 2003 had to be retrofitted with pollution controls.

By next year, all trucks that don't meet 2007 federal clean-truck standards will be barred. The California initiative, which is being appealed in court by the American Trucking Association, already has reduced diesel emissions by about 70 percent.

The ports of New York and New Jersey banned pre-1994 trucks at the beginning of this year, and have declared their intention to exclude trucks built before 2007 less than six years from now.

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