Many of the West Coast’s top transportation innovators and policy experts are convening in Tacoma this week for the Green Transportation Summit and Expo. They’re looking at ways to cut back on emissions that harm public health and cause climate change. They're also showing off some of the newest equipment and alternative fuel technologies.
The Expo Hall at Tacoma’s convention center is filled with just about every kind of electric car you could imagine in a city fleet, as well as pedicabs, ultra-clean diesel tractor-trailers and a Pierce County bus that runs on natural gas. Also on display are the latest in fueling and charging stations. Somewhat surprising is the huge bright yellow construction equipment in one corner. Mike Rochford, director of emissions and Regulatory Conformance for Caterpillar, Inc. says it’s a motor grader, used for maintaining roads.
“Gravel roads, construction sites, things like that, to make sure the other equipment can navigate properly at those places,” Rochford said.
He says Caterpillar is among industry leaders who are now voluntarily meeting the EPA’s toughest standards for diesel engines, the Tier 4. And they’re also working hard to make sure their equipment is designed so that operators can be more efficient with the fuel.
“So it’s the engine, but it’s also at a job site, requiring one pass instead of two or three passes, to get the same work done,” he said.
Caterpillar settled a claim with the EPA in 2011, for alleged clean air violations on nearly 600,000 engines. They had to pay a $2.5 million penalty and recall the non-compliant equipment. But the company is not required to manufacture off-road engines to such a high standard.
“What we’re seeing though is some people will put it in contracts,” said Rick Wallace, a senior policy analyst with Oregon’s Department of Energy.
“They’ll say – like a hospital, they might be building a new hospital -- they say, ‘I want only low-emissions equipment to be used here.’ Or some cities could put in an ordinance.”
He says those kinds of solutions are better for the health of the construction workers and for the communities that are working hard on reducing their carbon emissions.
In the Northwest, the transportation sector is the largest emitter of the air pollution that causes climate change, because of the region’s high dependence on hydroelectric power, rather than sources such as coal, which pollute the air.
With that in mind, regulators say the kinds of vehicles that companies, cities and counties purchase for their fleets can make a big difference. Dennis McLerran, the regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Northwest Division says the manufacturers of cleaner diesel technologies have made great strides that have improved air quality and public health. But there’s still a lot to do to reduce dependence on petroleum based fuels.
“Overall, we need more fuel efficient vehicles, we need to move towards electrification,” he said, adding that natural gas is a bridge fuel for an interim period.
“In the long run, we know that more plug in electric vehicles, plug in hybrid vehicles are where we’re going in the future,” he said.
McLerran was a plenary speaker for the opening of the conference. He said one of the most pioneering new technologies at the moment is the use of liquefied natural gas in marine engines. Tacoma-based Tote Maritime is now using the LNG ships on its routes from Puget Sound to Alaska and Puerto Rico.