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Pa. announces money to help get dirty diesel trucks out of high-traffic communities

  • By Sophia Schmidt/ WHYY
Trucks parked at a Flying J on April 1, 2020.

 Tim Lambert / WITF

Trucks parked at a Flying J on April 1, 2020.

Exhaust from diesel trucks can make heart and lung issues worse, and even cause cancer. A new state grant program in Pennsylvania aims to get some of these trucks out of communities.

“These are the kind of trucks many of us see on a regular basis in our neighborhoods, such as garbage, recycling, utility, and delivery trucks,” said Ramez Ziadeh, acting secretary of PA’s Department of Environmental Protection, in a press conference Thursday. “It’s vitally important that transportation move in the direction of electrification.”

The new $12.7 million grant program will give businesses, local governments, and nonprofits money to replace their dirty diesel trucks with electric vehicles.

The grants will contribute to or cover the cost of the electric vehicles themselves, as well as the infrastructure needed to charge them. Businesses and nonprofits can get grants covering 75% of the cost, while municipalities can get grants covering 90% (financially distressed municipalities can get 100%). Grant recipients will need to replace at least five vehicles, or in the case of small fleets, at least three.

The program should help protect communities from the unhealthy exhaust, Ziadeh said.

“Fossil fuel vehicles generate 50.2% of the nitrogen oxides in the air in Pennsylvania, as well as carbon monoxide, fine particulate matter, and hydrocarbons,” he said. “The health effects include premature death in people with heart or lung disease, heart attacks, aggravated asthma, and increased respiratory [symptoms] such as coughing and difficulty breathing.”

More than 10% of adults in Pennsylvania have asthma, according to the CDC. That’s above the national average.

The new grant money will be focused on Environmental Justice areas, which Pennsylvania defines as places where at least 20% of people are at or below the federal poverty line or at least 30% of residents are people of color, as well as areas with high traffic density.

“Health effects of poor air quality are disproportionately felt by low-income communities, particularly the negative health effects of asthma,” said Justin Dula, Pennsylvania’s environmental justice director.

In Philadelphia, there are stark differences in the rate of child asthma hospitalizations by ZIP code, with Black and Hispanic kids hospitalized due to asthma at rates more than four times higher than white kids.

Recipients of the truck electrification grants will have two years to get the new electric trucks on the road. They’ll also collect data to help others follow suit. The grant program is part of a DEP initiative funded through the national Volkswagen settlement over cheating on emission tests.

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