EPA Boasts About Diesel Emissions Program, Despite IG’s Contrary Findings

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Ethan Barton Editor in Chief
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The Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday their diesel emissions reductions program has “greatly improved” air quality and public health, although such claims were previously judged unreliable by the agency’s inspector general.

The program, called the Diesel Emission Reduction Act, prevented 4.8 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions and saved up to $12.6 billion in monetized health benefits, the EPA said in a report Wednesday, noting that’s $13 of public health benefit for every $1 spent on diesel projects.

“Clean diesel grants aimed at cleaning up old diesel engines have greatly improved public health by cutting harmful pollution that causes premature deaths, asthma attacks and missed school and workdays,” the report said.

Additionally, “funding from the program has helped clean up approximately 335,200 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and 14,700 tons of particulate matter (PM), which are linked to a range of respiratory ailments and premature death.”

But the EPA inspector general reported that previous claims for DERA accomplishments were unreliable. Diesel emission reduction grants couldn’t always be proven to “achieve the desired emissions reductions,” the IG said. “As a result, the EPA could overestimate emissions reductions for grant activities.”

A Tennessee Department of Transportation program, for example, “overstated” its results and couldn’t assure it would “achieve its projected emissions reductions and, ultimately, expected environmental and human health benefits,” the IG reported.

Similarly, the EPA reported that DERA awarded $570 million through 642 grants, which helped retrofit or replaced 73,000 vehicles. But the IG reviewed $26 million of those grants and questioned how 90 percent of the funds were spent, since “EPA funds were used to replace vehicles that would have been replaced anyway due to normal attrition.”

Another IG report found issues with EPA’s air quality monitoring. One region, for example, couldn’t prove its air pollution monitors were operating correctly.

Additionally, TheDCNF has reported that EPA admitted that it can’t determine how a specific grant correlates with a specific community’s air quality.

“We cannot definitively establish cause and effect on one project’s impact on a city’s air quality,” an EPA spokeswoman told TheDCNF. “Some more specific grants to [a] particular project are more easily quantifiable in terms of emissions reduced from that one project.”

Regardless, EPA continued to insist this week that its programs are causing improvements.

“EPA is making a visible difference in communities that need it most through the funding of cleaner trucks, buses, trains, and other heavy equipment,” EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation Janet McCabe said.

“The report on DERA’s impact offers striking evidence that this program is succeeding in providing Americans with cleaner air where they live and work while also cutting the pollution that fuels climate change,” she added.

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