Kirk can help stem diesel pollution

 
Updated 5/27/2011 6:35 PM
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This month marks the unofficial start of road construction season in Illinois. As in summers past, our highways will be filled with orange cones and construction equipment. Last month, Gov. Pat Quinn announced that state highways will see $8.3 billion in improvements over the five years of the Illinois Jobs Now! capital program, with $3.2 billion available for the local highway system.

As the workhorse of our economy, diesel engines -- especially in construction equipment -- will play a major role in building and rebuilding the next generation of transportation infrastructure projects in Illinois. And those engines must be cleaned up. Diesel pollution is associated with numerous adverse health effects, including lung cancer, asthma attacks, heart attacks, stroke and premature death.

Fortunately, progress is being made. Just last month, Chicago passed its first clean diesel construction ordinance. Introduced and sponsored by then-Mayor Daley, the ordinance will require the use of cleaner diesel fuel and less-polluting diesel trucks and equipment to be used on city-funded construction projects.

Regrettably, many diesel engines need to be updated. Nationwide, there are over 2 million pieces of construction equipment, and most lack modern particulate pollution controls. Local governments like Chicago's cannot drive this cleanup process alone, which is why federal action and support is necessary. As a member of the Committee on Appropriations, Sen. Mark Kirk has a unique opportunity to champion at the federal level the clean construction principles being implemented throughout his home state.

We ask our junior senator to require and fully fund the use of clean diesel equipment on federally funded transportation projects. It's a cost-effective strategy to improve our air quality, and it represents sound and pragmatic environmental policy that improves public health.

Jonathan Doster

Citizen Action/Illinois

Chicago