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Support HB 2007 to clean up diesel smoke and fumes

Since the early 1990s, residents and local industry of Jackson County have worked hard to improve our air quality. Old, dirty wood stoves have been replaced with cleaner sources of heat. Cars have been inspected by the Department of Environmental Quality during license renewals. Industry in White City has spent millions in an effort to reduce smokestack pollution.

Diesel emissions, which were exempt from the initial cleanup regulations, have become an ever-increasing source of pollution in our region. Diesel trucks, buses and cars, which are only 6% of the vehicles on the road, now produce 60-70% of all particulate emissions, along with a significant amount of cancer-causing fumes containing benzene, formaldehyde and arsenic.

Our valley is particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects from diesel. We live in a geologic “bowl” with temperature inversions that keep pollutants near ground level. Our population is aging, with a large number of frail elderly with underlying heart and lung diseases. Because of diesel pollution, they can be expected to suffer an increase in hospitalizations from COPD, asthma and heart attacks, causing some to die prematurely. Our children are also at risk, since diesel fumes worsen asthma and upper respiratory disease.

California’s aggressive plan to reduce diesel pollutants is also impacting our region. Central Point and Medford are both major hubs for truck traffic, with the triple trailers allowed in Oregon being converted to the double trailers allowed in California. The conversion now forces trucks to idle near the border, spewing diesel fumes into our air. As California requirements become more strict, we can expect dirty southbound trucks to be swapped for cleaner newer vehicles, with the older, dirtier vehicles directed northward from our region. As the unregulated trucks in Oregon become older, they will pollute even more.

Unless we specifically deal with diesel pollution, its impact on our citizenry will only get worse.

I urge our legislators to support House Bill 2007, which “directs the Environmental Quality Commission to adopt by rule diesel engine emission standards for medium-duty trucks and heavy-duty trucks.”

This bill would phase out all old diesel truck and bus engines by 2029, and require all trucks and buses to meet federal emission standards. It sets up a program for inspecting trucks, including those driven through our state from elsewhere.

It would also mandate that Oregon’s portion of the Volkswagen Diesel Settlement to be used to help small businesses replace old diesel engines, and allow local communities to set up anti-idling ordinances.

We have little control over environmental factors such as temperature inversions and wildfire smoke. We can control man-made causes of air pollution. We must control diesel pollution. Our health and the quality of our lives depend on it.

Dave Gilmour, M.D., is a former Jackson County health officer and former Jackson County commissioner. He lives in Central Point.