Greenspace: Grants help replace dirty-burning diesels

Want to breathe a little easier? The Minnesota Department of Transportation and the state Pollution Control Agency would like to make that happen.

Recently, the MPCA completed a federal grant that came through MNDOT to retrofit diesel vehicles in and around the Twin Cities to help reduce fine particulate matter. Particulate pollution is common, especially with older diesel vehicles.

Mark Sulzbach, clean diesel grant manager for the MPCA, said the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant helped clean the exhaust of 425 city, county and state vehicles such as dump trucks, snowplows, fire engines and garbage trucks. Diesel vehicles were retrofitted with diesel oxidation catalytic exhaust systems.

"The old diesels are pretty bad," Sulzbach said. "The newer diesels are 90 percent cleaner than the older ones."

New emission control standards in 1997 reduced the fine particulate matter allowed from exhausts, and a 2010 change to the emission regulations lowered the amount of nitrous oxide from diesels as well.


"This is a big deal because vehicles give off ground level pollution," Sulzbach said. "It's dispersed right in your breathing space."

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, fine particulate matter can aggravate asthma, increase risk in heart attacks and cause an assortment of other cardiopulmonary ailments. Furthermore, those problems most likely show up in children and older adults.

Sulzbach said the EPA likes to say that for every dollar in reduced emissions in diesel pollution, there are up to $13 in health benefits.

The 425 vehicles, Sulzbach said, probably took a big dent out of the older, legacy fleet of diesel engines in the seven-county Twin Cities area.

"We were running out of eligible vehicles," he said. "We did all the MNDOT and county and Minneapolis-St. Paul ones first. Then after we ran out, we worked with other municipalities."

Next up, he said, is a $120,000 federal Diesel Emission Reduction Act grant. For diesel owners with older engines — both on-road and off-road vehicles — there is money to fix or replace older vehicles to lower emissions. "We did a rock crusher in Mantorville," Sulzbach said. "They had a really dinosaur diesel. The old one used 12 gallons an hour. The new one uses six and is so much cleaner."

The best reason to fix Minnesota's diesel fleet, Sulzbach said, is that diesels provide the best pollution cleanup bang for your buck. Older diesels disproportionately pollute nitrous oxide and fine particulate matter more than gasoline engines.

"And it's not hard to find 40-year-old vehicles with original engines on them," he said. "To bring that older engine to a higher standard, that's a good thing. To bring them to the newest standard, that'd be a great thing."


Brian Todd is a Rochester freelance writer.

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