Clean-air grants give lift to heavy construction industry
Monday, February 18, 2013
Business in the highway construction industry has been slow to recover in Southeast Michigan after the 2008-09 economic downturn, and capital expenditures for newer, less polluting diesel engines has lagged.
But Mike Pittiglio Sr., co-owner of Florence Cement in Shelby Township, said that last year he took advantage of a federal anti-pollution program to retrofit one of the company's backhoes and saved about $30,000.
"We heard about a program through (the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association) where they could replace the motor in one of our excavator Caterpillars (backhoe for digging sewer pipes)," Pittiglio said. "We had bought it new in 1990 and were at a point where we needed to replace it or rebuild it."
Pittiglio said Florence has cut fuel costs by more than 15 percent and reduced air pollution with the more energy-efficient motor.
"Business is starting to pick up, but the work is still not up there to justify spending a lot of money on equipment," Pittiglio said. "It was nice we had this program to replace our backhoe."
Rob Coppersmith, MITA's vice president of member services, said the heavy construction industry experienced about a 15 percent drop in hours worked over the last several years.
"The grant from the Environmental Protection Agency was good timing and helped some companies invest in equipment they might not have been able to," Coppersmith said.
Since 2010, MITA received two grants totaling $1.26 million from the EPA Midwest Clean Diesel Initiative to repower heavy construction diesel engines, said Coppersmith, who was the grant administrator for the project.
"Heavy construction equipment lasts for a long time. The tier-zero equipment is older than 1996. Companies are producing tier-four equipment now that emit lower levels of particulates," Coppersmith said.
Of about 70 qualifying applications, Coppersmith said 35 engines were replaced, cutting particulate emissions by nearly 40 tons per year and significantly reducing nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide emissions.
The average cost of a tier-three replacement diesel engine is about $30,000, Coppersmith said. However, cranes, which require two engines, cost $80,000 to $100,000, he said. The EPA pays 75 percent of the replacement costs.
Pittiglio said Florence paid about $20,000 for its share of the engine and to upgrade the backhoe's pumps, hydraulics and tracks.
"It was well worth the cost," he said. "We have use of it for another 20 years and we are reducing pollution."
Nationally, the EPA estimates there are 20 million older diesel engines that contribute to higher levels of air pollution. In the Midwest, the EPA estimates there are approximately 3.3 million.
"We are going to apply for another EPA grant because there is a big demand from Southeast Michigan companies," Coppersmith said.