The Heinz Endowments is adding $920,000 to the Clean Diesel Construction Equipment Retrofit Fund. That matches the amount already in the fund that was started by the Allegheny County Health Department. The money will go to small businesses that have older diesel equipment that needs to be retrofitted, as per city ordinance.
New city regulations require contractors to use low-emissions construction equipment on projects that total $2.5 million or more. That had some fearing that small contractors would be pushed out of the process because of the cost associated with retrofits.
"This will allow small contractors to have access to money to help them overcome what may otherwise be a financial challenge to them to comply with the City of Pittsburgh's new requirements," said Caren Glotfelty, Environment Program director for the Heinz Endowments.
Applications for grants will be taken starting January 1st. The county expects to be flooded with fund seekers. Already, some 50 to 60 pieces of equipment have been retrofitted through the program. There are no estimates of how much can be accomplished with this round of funding. However, officials said every little bit helps combat a serious issue.
"Diesel particulate pollution is of great concern in Allegheny County, especially in downtown Pittsburgh, where we have a large concentration of trucks, buses, and construction projects," said Jim Thompson, Air Program manager for the county.
That pollution is linked to several health issues, including asthma, cancer, and premature death.
The announcement of the retrofit funding is part of the larger Breathe Project, a broad coalition working together to improve air quality in the Pittsburgh region. At a news conference, officials from the construction and technology industries, as well as government officials, said that air pollution is a big problem when it comes to attracting and retaining a skilled workforce.
Andrew Moore, with Google Pittsburgh, said that the company attracts some of the best and brightest in the world, and that mostly Pittsburgh is an easy sell, but, "I kind of draw a blank when the question of air quality comes up, and I have to be transparent about it. I tell them that there's lots of good things about Pittsburgh, but air quality is still a problem."
The Breathe Project is trying to combat that problem, but is fighting against the notion that an aggressive clean air plan will cost the region jobs and hurt the economy. Moore said that the strength of the economy, however, is directly tied to a healthy environment, which starts with clean air and water.