Providence may be the second largest city in New England, but it can trade asthma and pollution stories with the best of the major cities. Rhode Island has the 5th highest child asthma rate in the country, and metropolitan Providence is ranked in the worst 6% of all U.S. counties for cancer risks posed by diesel pollution. Diesel is a menacing public health threat and a potential lynchpin in the fight against global warming. Black carbon soot is now considered the second largest source of global warming pollution after carbon dioxide. It is 2,000 more potent as a global warming agent than an equal volume of CO2.
Cue Providence: this summer will surely be remembered, not least by Clean Water Action members, for precedent-setting local government action and a highly practical approach to diesel pollution reduction measures in the capitol city. Clean Water Action led the effort, on not one but two fronts: to secure funding for diesel emission control technology; and implement a landmark policy solution that holds government accountable to protect public health. Working side by side with the Mayor's office, Clean Water Action helped prepare a winning grant application worth more than half a million dollars to transform the city's diesel fleet to reduce pollution by up to 90%. Providence was the only city in New England to receive federal stimulus dollars for diesel pollution reductions.
Emissions control technologies are presently being affixed to 30 trucks in the Department of Public Works, in addition to vehicles used by the Parks Department, Traffic Engineering, Communications and Recreation Departments representing a full three quarters of all city vehicles. The remaining, un-retrofitted vehicles are due to be phased out of work in the next several years, at which point they will be replaced by new vehicles already up to the EPA's most stringent emissions standards. Clean Water Action stood beside Providence Mayor Cicilline at a press conference where he praised the move to "help to improve air quality in our city as we focus on rebuilding our economy for the 21st century."
On the heels of the Mayor's announcement, and a wave of positive press in both print and television media, the City Council voted that same night to take pollution prevention in Providence one step further. The Council voted 9 to 2 in favor of a law requiring that contractors use the same emission control technology on their equipment when performing major public works projects on behalf of the city - in effect codifying the notion that public money shouldn't create a public health risk.
Councilman Seth Yurdin, who sponsored the ordinance, remarked to the Providence Journal that: "The two initiatives will dovetail almost seamlessly. As the city cleans up its dirty diesel vehicles, the construction contractors working on city projects will also be cleaning up their diesel vehicles."
Dozens of supporters turned out to witness the vote, a culminating victory in a hard fought campaign, including health professionals, parents, concerned citizens and environmental activists toting hand-painted signs that read: Vote For a Cleaner City! Providence Wants Clean Construction! Owing in no small amount to their dedicated activism, many Councilmembers stressed the importance of using whatever measures lie within their jurisdiction to improve the health of Providence citizens.
Building on the success of Providence's initiatives, Clean Water Action is looking towards a broader statewide solution to clean government contracts. We will continue to work with our state agencies, legislators, and other municipalities to transform the way we do business ensuring a higher standard of accountability. After all, construction equipment accounts for 40% of all mobile source diesel pollution in the northeast, so we've got our work cut out for us. Until then, rest assured that a Providence summer just got a little sweeter.