Tighter pollution restrictions for many construction projects

By Skye H. McFarlane

Soon, residents of construction-choked Downtown neighborhoods will be breathing just a little bit easier.

Starting Feb. 12, 2007, all heavy-duty (8,500 pounds or more) diesel vehicles owned, operated, leased or contracted by any New York State agency or public authority will be required to gas up with ultra low sulfur diesel.

The low sulfur fuel emits considerably fewer nitrogen oxides — the nasty tailpipe pollutants that can cause both asthma and acid rain — than standard diesel. The new statute, which officially became a law on Aug. 16 (Gov. Pataki signed it publicly on Nov. 2), will also require most heavy-duty state vehicles to install advanced exhaust filters by 2010.

For Lower Manhattan, that means any project under the purview of the Port Authority, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Battery Park City Authority, the Hudson River Park Trust or the state Department of Transportation, would be subject to the revamped regulations. The upcoming Route 9A Project along West St. will likely be one of the first projects to enter contract using the new rules.

As with any legislation, however, the law has its loopholes. The law will not apply to contracts signed before the Feb. 12 effective date. City and private projects also fall outside the scope of the law. Additionally, affected projects that deem the low sulfur fuel too expensive or too hard to find will have the option to ask the state to waive the regulations on a case-by-case basis.

Because of voluntary commitments from developer Larry Silverstein and the Port Authority, vehicles on the World Trade Center site already use the cleaner fuel. Community leaders have long been pushing for other heavy-duty vehicles in the area, particularly the W.T.C. site’s “moving vehicles” (the trucks that bring equipment to and from the development), to go low sulfur as well. Silverstein has already committed to using the low sulfur diesel for his off-site vehicles, but the Port and M.T.A. have not.

The law does not affect the W.T.C. work underway but is likely to apply to the Port’s plans to build a tower and an underground vehicle security center at the former Deutsche Bank building site at 130 Liberty St.

Catherine McVay Hughes, who chairs Community Board 1’s World Trade Center Committee and has spearheaded the local fight for cleaner fuel, said that the new legislation was a positive development but that it was not comprehensive enough.

“It’s a great step, but I wish it was more inclusive,” Hughes said. “The law leaves gaps in the private sector and I can’t wait until those gaps are closed.”

Law or no law, C.B. 1 and neighborhood environmental groups will continue urging Lower Manhattan developers of all types to switch to ultra low sulfur diesel of their own accord.