Pittsburgh's air will soon be a little easier to breathe.
Today, City Council unanimously passed legislation requiring that contractors on publicly subsidized projects reduce their diesel emissions. The bill, known as the "Clean Air Act," mandates that contractors receiving taxpayer support must retrofit their diesel-powered vehicles with pollution-control devices.
"To have City Council taking a concrete step like this to improve our air is huge," Tom Hoffman, western Pennsylvania director for Clean Water Action, announced at a press conference outside City Council chambers shortly before council voted to pass the bill. "[This bill] is really about being good stewards for the planet."
"It's not going to solve all of our pollution problems," added Rachel Filippini, executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution, "[but] this legislation is a step in the right direction."
According to the bill, contractors will be required to install pollution-control devices on vehicles being used on projects that total at least $2.5 million and that benefit from at least $250,000 in city subsidies.
"If you're going to take our tax dollars," Hoffman told City Paper this morning, "we're going to use it in a way that benefits the community."
The Clean Air Act, designed to "minimize human exposure and health risks from diesel particulate emissions," was born out of a progressive movement that began about two years ago. Representatives of Pittsburgh United, an activist organization composed of unions, environmental groups and community organizations, worked with city councilors to help craft legislation designed to reform Pittsburgh's economic-development process. Their agenda included three main areas: jobs, clean water and clean air.
In early 2010, City Council passed a prevailing-wage bill requiring developers who receive subsidies to pay the private sector going rate to building service, food service, hotel and grocery workers. And one year ago, City Council approved the "Clean Water Act," a bill requiring developers receiving city subsidies to reduce storm-water runoff.
With today's vote -- City Councilor Doug Shields voted "Aye for clean air!" -- all three initiatives have been accomplished. Supporters credited the positive collaboration between labor unions, environmental groups and community organizations.
"These movements have a history of clashing," Tom Wolper, a volunteer leader for the Sierra Club, told CP this morning.
Wolper said passing the Clean Water Act is important because Pittsburgh -- widely known for its poor air quality -- hasn't taken measures to reduce air pollution in decades.
"Just getting [clean air] back on the public agenda is important," he said. "It's a matter of the city having the will to say, 'We have to run diesel as clean as possible.'"