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New Diesel Equipment Requirements in Cook County Contracts

Friday, May 29, 2009

Contractors and subcontractors who do business with Cook County will need to make a few changes in their operations, starting immediately. Under a new law just enacted, operators of diesel-powered construction equipment must use ultra-low sulfur fuel, and over time, all equipment used on Cook County jobs must be retrofitted with exhaust filters that remove particulate matter from equipment exhaust. State and federal funding is available to pay for the cost of retrofits. The full text of the ordinance is available here. The ordinance was introduced by Cook County Commissioner Roberto Maldonado, whose district has long-standing air quality concerns.

There are some limitations to who and what is affected. The new requirements apply only to county contracts, not all work. The new requirements apply to new contracts, not existing contracts, and only to contracts of $2M or above. Also, equipment used on the site less than 3 days total is exempted, as well as equipment that certifiably cannot be retrofitted. Equipment that currently has Level 2 exhaust filters gets an extra year to comply up to Level 3. The changes are phased in over an 8-year schedule. However, a variety of additional paperwork requirements will be required immediately, to determine compliance with the new law.

I interviewed Ashley Collins with the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, a major supporter of the new law. She characterized the new requirements as a relatively low-cost change, in light of the significant air quality improvements. Perhaps of greatest interest to contractors and subs, she also provided information on applying for grant money that can greatly reduce the cost to the equipment operator. According to RHAMC, these exhaust pollutants present a serious health concern to humans:

Reducing diesel pollution will protect the publicís health. Diesel exhaust is known to cause numerous health problems, including lung cancer, asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes, and premature death. In the Chicago Metropolitan area alone, it is estimated that diesel soot causes 755 deaths, 1,021 heart attacks, 476 cases of chronic bronchitis, and 17,017 asthma attacks each year. Reducing diesel pollution is also an effective strategy in mitigating global warming. Black carbon from diesel exhaust, pound for pound, is 500 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

More from RHAMC: Short blurb and Fact Sheet.

No doubt we're all in favor of clean lungs and prevention of untimely death, but nothing comes without a cost. I asked Ms. Collins about the cost effects this would have on contractors and subs. With regard to the requirement to use ultra-low sulfur fuel, she noted that this fuel is already required for all over-the-road diesel equipment such as tractor-trailers, and that the difference in cost is approximately 3-5 cents per gallon, which is an estimated impact less than 1% of the cost of the overall project (on average). She also noted that there is a new federal mandate on refiners that will phase out all but the ultra-low sulfur fuel, just a year later than under the county ordinance. (In other words, this change was coming anyway.) This is known as the "Non-Road Rule," which supplements the Highway Diesel Rule. Here is more about fuels from the US-EPA.

The direct cost of exhaust filters is the other category of cost that equipment operators will face. While noting that equipment varies widely in size, Ms. Collins estimated that a Level 2 filter, required starting in 2011, will cost between $3-5K per 250hp machine, while Level 3 filters, required starting in 2014 for prime contractors or 2016 for subcontractors, will cost between $8-10K per 250hp machine.

Ms. Collins was also eager to direct equipment operators to two government grant programs that will pay for the retrofits. Equipment operators may apply directly to the State of Illinois Environmental Protection Agency's Illinois Clean Diesel Grant Program, which currently has about $2M available for this work. Additionally, $50M in federal funding is expected in the fall under the federal budget. As this requires a local governmental sponsor, the avenue for application is through the Cook County Department of Environmental Control, which she tells me is eager to be the governmental sponsor for equipment operators doing business with Cook County.

I have a number of requests for further information pending with other groups that may have an additional perspective. Check back next week for likely updates on this topic, and other matters of interest to contractors and subs in the greater Chicagoland area.

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