NYC Mayor Eric Adams Errs In Switching The City’s Heavy-Duty Fleet To Renewable Diesel

December 1, 2023

Yesterday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced that the city will transition its heavy-duty vehicle fleet from diesel to renewable diesel by the end of Fiscal Year 2024.

In response, WE ACT for Environmental Justice’s Director of Policy Sonal Jessel, MPH issued the following statement:

“Switching from diesel to renewable diesel is like a chronic cigarette smoker switching to filtered cigarettes. Yes, it’s better than no action at all, but it’s only a marginal reduction of the adverse health risks, which – like continuing to pump any kind of diesel exhaust into our air – are both unnecessary and deadly. The production and use of biodiesel are neither “carbon”- or “health”- neutral. Rather than transitioning New York City’s fleet of ambulances, garbage trucks, and other heavy-duty vehicles to renewable diesel, it would make more sense – from a public health perspective, a climate perspective, and an economic perspective – to skip false “intermediate” steps and continue efforts to make the switch to all-electric vehicles.

“Biodiesel fueled vehicles still produce carbon dioxide which contributes to the climate crisis, and New York City has been ravaged by extreme weather in recent years. Plus, harmful air pollutants cause respiratory issues like asthma. New Yorkers have some of the highest asthma rates in the nation, with carbon dioxide being known to contribute to asthma and other respiratory ailments – including lung cancer.

“…Black/African American people breathe in 56-percent more pollution…”

“And air pollution and climate change disproportionately impact people of color. For example, 61 percent of Black/African American people live in areas that fail to meet air quality standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. On average, Black/African American people breathe in 56-percent more pollution than they generate, while whites breathe 17-percent less pollution than they cause. Black/African American people are also almost three times more likely to die from asthma-related causes than the white population, and Black/African American children are 10-times more likely to die from asthma.

“Not only are we concerned about the air pollution impacts, but renewable diesel opens the door to extending the life of dirty fossil fuel infrastructure in communities.

“…people of color, who have had to face disproportionate health burdens…”

“We urge Mayor Adams to reconsider this plan. New Yorkers – especially people of color, who have had to face disproportionate health burdens from both air pollution and climate change for decades – deserve smart, bold actions. It would be a shame for the City to spend all that money for marginal improvements when it could make a sound, long-term investment that protects the health and well-being of all New Yorkers for generations to come – especially with the funds finally available to make this urgently necessary and inevitable transition through the Inflation Reduction Act. That’s what leadership looks like. That’s getting it done.”

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WE ACT for Environmental Justice is a Northern Manhattan membership-based organization whose mission is to build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low-income residents participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices. WE ACT has offices in New York and Washington, D.C.

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