Clearing the air

Written by Baker City Herald Editorial Board August 24, 2011 08:23 pm

Given the choice between using electricity produced by hydroelectric dams, and burning gallons of comparatively dirty diesel fuel, we’ll take the former.

So would long-haul truck drivers.

Which is hardly a surprise, considering it costs an estimated 70 percent less to use electricity to heat or cool a truck’s cab while it’s parked instead of running the diesel engine to supply the power.

And in Oregon, this issue will soon be a legal as well as an economic one.

A state law that takes effect Jan. 1, 2012, prohibits truck drivers from idling their engines for more than five minutes per hour.

That’s a major change for truckers who are accustomed to leaving the engines running for many hours in a row, while they rest at truck stops such as the Baker Truck Corral.

(Drivers are required, also by law, to rest for at least 10 hours after driving 11 consecutive hours. For obvious climatological reasons, it’s not feasible to spend 10 hours in an unheated truck cab during a Baker County winter.)

The chief purpose of Oregon’s new anti-idling law is to reduce pollution by encouraging truck drivers to turn off their engines when they’re not actually covering miles.

To help drivers comply with Oregon’s forthcoming law, as well as similar restrictions in other states, the federal government is spending several million dollars to install power stations at 50 truck stops nationwide.

The Baker Truck Corral is part of the first group of businesses to participate. Two dozen electrical outlets are available there. Truckers pay $1 per hour to connect their rigs.

This is a worthwhile project. And it’s appropriate that the federal government is spearheading it.

However, we hope the public subsidies are only temporary.

That 70-percent savings figure ought to be a powerful lure to truck drivers.

We would expect that truck stop owners would be eager to install such stations.

Ultimately, everyone stands to benefit.

This is especially true in Baker City, where most of the electricity we use is generated by hydro dams rather than by burning fossil fuels. Our air is already pretty pure, but it can only get cleaner if trucks are no longer belching diesel exhaust all through the night.