|Vol. 24, No. 15||February 16, 1999|
BY NAOMI LUBICK
Stand behind a New York City bus and you might be caught in a billowing, carcinogenic cloud of diesel exhaust. But that may soon change.
Plans to test emissions of all heavy-duty diesel vehicles and to reduce diesel use were outlined by Commissioner John Cahill, of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, during a recent public policy workshop at Columbia. The city hopes to expand its fleet of electric buses from the current 15 to 500, Cahill said, and plans to introduce new buses that use natural gas or combine electricity with a combustion fuel engine. He also described plans for a bill authorizing roadside checks and annual emissions inspections of diesel vehicles.
"While we're trying to get a handle on the science behind [diesel fuel use], we're working on the regulatory aspects," Cahill told the audience attending the Jan. 28 workshop, "Diesel Air Pollution in New York City: Technology, Policy, and Public Health." The workshop was the third in a series sponsored by the Columbia Earth Institute (CEI), entitled "Improving the New York Environment: Issues in the Physical, Social, and Natural Sciences."
The event, held in the International Affairs Building, also addressed the serious health issues associated with diesel emissions. Rich Kassel, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said New York City is in the midst of a severe asthma emergency. The problem is centered in areas Kassel called "diesel trucking grounds," where diesel-fueled vehicles rumble through the streets of Harlem and the South Bronx. According to Kassel, the city has the largest concentration of diesel vehicles in the United States; the city's bus fleet alone has approximately 3,600 vehicles, in addition to the numerous commercial delivery and service vehicles.
New York City's diesel air pollution is one example of the issues being tackled by scholars in the CEI workshops, where problems are viewed through diverse lenses of policy, technology, public health impacts and costs. The scholars hail from Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and schools of Journalism, Engineering, Public Health and International and Public Affairs, as well as from organizations outside Columbia.
Each workshop is meant to inspire participants to write proposals for a $5,000 seed money grant for interdisciplinary projects on the workshop's topic. The two previous workshops focused on the New York Harbor and estuary and on the city's bridges and transportation infrastructure. Future topics include landfills and urban ecology. For more information on the series, contact Raimondo Betti (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Lex van Geen (email@example.com).