Report: It’s Time for NYC to Do Away With Diesel and Switch to RNG

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including Energy Vision, the New York League of Conservation Voters and WE ACT for Environmental Justice, are calling on New York City to stop buying heavy-duty diesel vehicles for its municipal fleets and to adopt alternatives that are available today.

Specifically, they are asking the city and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to take the following actions:

  • Stop allocating funds for the purchase of new heavy-duty diesel trucks and MTA diesel buses;
  • Focus new heavy-duty vehicle purchases on the best diesel alternatives, such as electric vehicles or renewable natural gas (RNG) vehicles; and
  • Make the necessary capital expenditures on infrastructure and fleet garage modifications to support implementation of these alternatives.

According to a press release from Energy Vision, NYC agencies continue to rely on diesel vehicles, and their budgets call for buying hundreds more in the years ahead.

“That deserves to end now,” says Joanna Underwood, founder and board member of Energy Vision, “and the budget process could help make it happen. The city council could play a leadership role by framing its budget guidelines so they encourage city agencies to seize the opportunities they have to deploy better alternatives for this world-class city.”

In city council committee budget hearings in March, Energy Vision testified on the best strategies for replacing the city’s diesel vehicles. On Wednesday, on the eve of executive budget hearings in the New York City Council, Energy Vision sent the council and released a new report on this topic, “Ending the Diesel Era: Cleaner Fleets for a Healthier New York City.” It assembles the latest evidence showing why it is vital for the city to eliminate heavy-duty diesel vehicles and start adopting alternatives.

The report makes the following claims:

The city can’t meet its climate and air quality goals with diesel: The city deserves credit for setting ambitious clean air and greenhouse-gas (GHG) reduction goals. It has pledged to achieve the best air quality of any major U.S. city by 2050 and to cut GHGs 80% from its municipal fleet vehicles by 2035. But to meet or exceed these goals will require a major, rapid shift away from diesel fuel.

Heavy-duty vehicles are key: Across New York City’s fleets, heavy-duty diesel trucks consume 60% of all fleet fuel and generate most of the harmful emissions, including GHGs and health-damaging particulate and nitrogen oxide pollution. They are, therefore, the most important and urgent targets for switching to non-diesel alternatives.

RNG is the best alternative: Natural gas vehicles equipped with new ultra-low-emission, near-zero natural gas engines and powered by RNG offer by far the fastest, healthiest and most cost-effective way for the city to attain its climate and air quality goals. There are already seven operational compressed natural gas (CNG) refueling stations within the five boroughs, and many private-sector companies are eager to expand New York’s non-diesel refueling infrastructure. Several new RNG-capable refueling stations are now coming online.

RNG could help solve the city’s waste problem: RNG can be easily transported to New York via existing natural gas pipelines and delivered via existing natural gas refueling stations. Longer term, the city could use its own organic waste streams to produce the RNG it needs locally. Some RNG production capacity already exists in New York, and more is under development in the region. Processing the 1.2 million tons of food waste New York City generates each year would produce enough RNG fuel to power all of the city’s heavy-duty vehicles while leveraging its organic waste stream’s untapped potential as a valuable energy resource.

“New York is leaving one of its best resources for fighting climate change and improving public health on the table,” says Energy Vision’s president, Matt Tomich, co-author of the report. “Doubling down on diesel when superior alternatives exist makes no sense. Nor does letting NYC’s organic waste stream go to waste instead of using it to produce RNG. The city spends $400 million a year to ship its waste out of state – a third of which is organics. Instead of discarding them, New Yorkers would get powerful benefits from harnessing its organic wastes to produce RNG for its own fleets.”

“While diesel engines long had the benefits of power and fuel use efficiency, I am now convinced that they are an outmoded choice,” notes Brendan Sexton, former NYC Department of Sanitation (DSNY) commissioner, former chair of the city’s procurement policy board and a board member of Energy Vision. “New natural gas heavy-duty engines have the power to do what NYC trucks need to do with less noise and much less pollution or carbon impact. It is time for New York’s fleets, especially its huge refuse fleet, to start aggressively phasing out diesel as many other cities and private haulers across the country are doing.”

“DSNY takes pride – and rightly so – in efficiently operating the largest refuse fleet in the U.S.,” adds Norman Steisel, CEO of EnEssCo Strategies, former DSNY commissioner and former NYC deputy mayor, who is also on Energy Vision’s board. “So why is it dragging its feet in replacing its outmoded diesel trucks with the more sophisticated technology available today? The new near-zero natural gas engines are here now, and the trucks are affordable. RNG fuel is here now, and there are already natural gas refueling stations in place that can deliver this new fuel reliably and affordably. All DSNY has to do is do it. The health and environmental benefits cry out for responsible action.”

Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, dean for global health at New York City’s Mt. Sinai Health System, adds that “getting rid of diesel is the right thing to do.”

“It will improve the quality of life,” he says. “It will be highly cost-effective. And it can solidify New York City’s position as an environmental leader among American cities.”

The full report can be found here.

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