An excavator parked in Surrey at the construction site of a new railway overpass at 152 Street and Colebrook Road. Metro Vancouver officials say newly imposed fees are spurring owners to use less polluting machines.

Dirty diesel machine crackdown already working: Metro Vancouver

New fees believed speeding switch to cleaner non-road heavy equipment, cutting air pollution

Metro Vancouver officials claim their year-old initiative to slap hefty fees on soot-belching diesel equipment is already succeeding in pushing many of the dirtiest machines out of the region.

Just 1,415 excavators and other heavily polluting off-road diesel machines registered as required under the new system last year, well short of the expected 2,000 to 2,500.

Officials don’t suspect widespread non-compliance, but rather a faster move by owners to switch to much cleaner machines or relocate old models to the Fraser Valley or other jurisdictions where fees don’t apply.

“The surprisingly high amount of impact in the first year is very encouraging,” said Vancouver Coun. Heather Deal, who chairs Metro’s environment and parks committee.

“We’re thinking we have around a third less off-road diesel soot emissions in the region just from excavator turnover alone.”

Metro initially targeted the worst polluting off-road diesel engines – the oldest ‘Tier 0’ category of engines with no emission controls – in a bid to reduce exposure of nearby residents to diesel particulate and other emissions linked to higher rates of cancer.

Tier 0 equipment was charged $4 per horsepower last year or close to $500 for a 120-horse excavator. That rose to $6 this year and continues to climb each year to $20 per horse by 2017, making it increasingly costly to run soot-spewing machines.

Fees kick in next year on the next newest engine group (Tier 1 engines that meet the earliest emissions standards), while newer, cleaner Tier 2 to 4 engines are exempt.

Metro took in $676,000 in fees in 2012, less than the $967,000 it estimated.

The annual program costs, which include enforcement officers to patrol the region, are $600,000.

But some 2012 revenue was fees paid in advance for 2013 and Metro has yet to recoup significant program setup costs over the previous three years.

The region has also promised that operators who retire or upgrade a machine to Tier 2 or better will get an 80 per cent rebate of fees they paid on it in the previous three-year period. That pledge means setting aside more money in future years for refunds.

Environmental regulation and enforcement division manager Ray Robb said Metro officers will begin ticketing or prosecuting some “very persistent” violators who continue to run Tier 0 machines in the region without registering or paying fees.

The initial emphasis was on education, he said, rather than getting “too aggressive too soon.”

Robb said the new fees prompted Port Mann/Highway 1 project builder Kiewit Flatiron to swap old machines that would have been subject to fees for newer ones it had available outside the region.

Another example is the Fraser Richmond Soil and Fibre composting operation in east Richmond.

Owner Harvest Power told Metro it will replace 13 Tier 0 machines this year with electric or newer diesel equipment, cutting its diesel particulate emissions by 10 tonnes per year.

Asked if Metro is concerned its fee structure just pushes the problem of badly polluting diesel equipment to the Fraser Valley, Deal said the neighbouring regional district could easily follow Metro’s lead.

“I encourage them to take up similar regulations,” Deal said. “They are very concerned about their own air quality – and rightfully so – and I’m sure we’d be happy to work with them on the program.”

Non-road diesels often work in construction sites near residential areas, exposing more people to emissions than some other sources, such as ships.

By spurring owners to switch to cleaner engines, Metro expects there will be large health benefits and lives saved.

Jack Davidson, president of the B.C. Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association, said Metro should have stayed out of diesel emission regulation and left it to the province – or to the competitive forces of the industry.

“We don’t like regulation at any time,” he said.

“Emissions from rail and marine traffic far outweigh the emissions from heavy equipment operating.”

A big concern for owners was older machines that are only rarely used, but he noted Metro agreed to sell permits by the week to address that problem.

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