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Puerto Rico Ferries Go Green with Environmental Protection Agency Diesel Reduction Grant

Release Date: 08/03/2010
Contact Information: Brenda Reyes,, 787-977-5869

(San Juan, P.R.) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded $517,000 to Puerto Rico’s Metropolitan Maritime Transportation Authority (La Autoridad de Transporte Maritimo) to reduce diesel pollution, a major contributor to urban air pollution. The funds will be used to repower two main and two auxiliary marine engines on two passenger ferries, La Nina and La Pinta, which operate from the San Juan Metropolitan Area and the Catano Municipality both on Puerto Rico’s northern coast. Repowering includes replacing old engines with newer, cleaner models.

Diesel air pollution has been linked to respiratory diseases, including asthma. The asthma incidence rate in Puerto Rico is severe. Asthma mortality in Puerto Rico is two times higher than the rest of United States. According to Puerto Rico’s Department of Health, the high asthma rate has been recognized as one of the major public health problems in Puerto Rico. The proposed project will reduce the exposure to diesel exhaust in the San Juan Metropolitan Area by reducing pollution from the ferries through repowering.

"Older diesel engines generate significant amounts of fine particles, hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide, which are released into the air. Fine particles can lodge deep into the lungs, can trigger asthma attacks and, over time, cause permanent damage to the lungs." said Judith Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. "Clean diesel funding is part of the nationwide transition to clean energy that is clearing the air and reducing our dependence on dirty fossil fuels."

EPA estimates that for every dollar invested in reducing diesel exhaust, a community will see up to $13 in public health benefits. This project will reduce nitrogen oxides by 290 tons and particulate matter by six tons during the remaining life of the vessels. These reductions will lower human exposure to toxic air pollutants and reduce the amount of toxic substances that get into the air and water in the San Juan area.

The Maritime Transportation Authority is a public corporation under the Department of Transportation and Public Works of Puerto Rico. The two ferries to be repowered transport around 3,000 passengers daily. Other agencies and organizations that have worked on this project are the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board (PREQB), the Northeast Diesel Collaborative Puerto Rico Committee (NEDC-PRC) and the Asthma Program of the Puerto Rico Department of Health (PRDH). The PREQB along with the Asthma Program of the PRDH will run an education and outreach portion of the project. The PREQB will provide educational materials to be included inside of the repowered ferries and their terminals. It will also assist in other activities to inform the public about the relationship between air quality and human health. The Asthma Program of the PRDH will assist with the outreach activities, offer updated asthma surveillance data, and carry out other related efforts. The NEDC-PRC will provide technical assistance.

The San Juan Municipality is the densest area in Puerto Rico with 9,084 people per square mile as of the 2000 US Census. There are 2.4 million living in the San Juan metropolitan area, and over 800,000 living in the central city. Catano is separated from Old San Juan, the historic colonial section of San Juan, by the San Juan Bay. The shortest distance to travel from Catano to Old San Juan is through the San Juan Bay, by using these ferries. Old San Juan is linked to the mainland of Puerto Rico by three bridges. The Catano-San Juan ferries provide an alternate route in and out of the island alleviating traffic congestion on the three bridges.

Nationally, EPA has taken steps to ensure that the diesel engines manufactured now and in the future will be significantly cleaner than those operating today; however, diesel engines are very durable, and older models will continue to be used and pose health and environmental problems for decades. Repowering existing diesel engines with newer, cleaner engines is a relatively simple and very cost-effective way to reduce this harmful pollution.

EPA efforts to reduce air pollution are ongoing. In January 2010, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson proposed the strictest air pollution standards in U.S. history. Last year, EPA announced tougher tailpipe emission standards for cars and light-duty trucks for model years 2012-2016, which will result in cleaner vehicles - ultimately requiring an average fuel economy standard of 35 mpg in 2016. This will result in increased fuel economy of five percent every year, reduce greenhouse gas pollution by nearly 950 million metric tons and save the average car buyer more than $3,000 in fuel costs.

EPA’s National Clean Diesel Funding Assistance Program has provided over $35 million to New Jersey, New York and Puerto Rico since 2005. The awards announced today were chosen to both maximize economic impact and emissions reductions.

To learn more about EPA’s clean diesel efforts and the Northeast Diesel Collaborative visit:

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