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Controlling Air Pollution from Motor Vehicles

Information on the VW Settlement and how to comment on the development of the Beneficiary Mitigation Plan and Zero Emission Vehicle Investment is available.

Cars, trucks, buses, off-road vehicles and planes are all considered mobile sources of air pollution. To reduce air pollution from these significant sources, as required by the federal Clean Air Act of 1990, DEC:

How Engine Pollution Harms the Environment and Health

Carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and hydrocarbons are released when fuel burns in an internal combustion engine. They may also be released when vehicle tailpipes emit air and fuel residuals. Gasoline vapors also escape into the atmosphere during refueling and when fuel vaporizes from engines and fuel systems caused by vehicle operation or hot weather.

The pollutants in engine emissions from vehicles or lawn equipment cause damage to lung tissue and can lead to and aggravate respiratory diseases, such as asthma. Motor vehicle pollution also contributes to the formation of acid rain. The pollution also emits greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

Diesel engines are durable and efficient. However, because they consume diesel fuel, a complicated mix of petroleum components, they produce some pollutants. A small amount of the fuel exits the engine unburned. These airborne hydrocarbons can form larger particles in the atmosphere when they contact airborne dust and other particles.

Unlike gasoline engines, which may not get enough air into the cylinder for combustion, diesel engines operate with excess air so emissions of carbon monoxide are very low, though still measurable. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that combines with blood and limits its ability to transport oxygen. Since the engines are consuming fuel and air and create heat in the combustion process, nitrogen from the air can be transformed into nitrogen oxides which are reddish brown gases that irritate the lungs and eyes.

Pollutants emitted directly from vehicles are not the only cause for concern. On warm, sunny days, hydrocarbons react with oxides of nitrogen to create a secondary pollutant, ozone. In many urban areas, motor vehicles are the single largest contributor to ground-level ozone which is a common component of smog. Ozone causes coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. It can also bring on permanent lung damage, making it a cause of crucial public health problems.

Zero-Emission Vehicles (ZEV)

ZEVs include battery-electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel-cell-electric vehicles. These technologies can be used in passenger cars, trucks and transit buses. The federal Clean Air Act allows NYS to adopt California's zero emission vehicle (ZEV) standards.

NYS and seven other states joined together in an initiative to put 3.3 million ZEVs on the road by 2025. A Memorandum of Understanding outlines the steps these states will take to expand consumer awareness and demand for ZEVs. A Multi-State Zero-Emission Vehicle Action Plan for 2018-2021 (leaves DEC website) outlines the next steps these states will take to grow consumer awareness and demand for ZEVs.

Reducing Vehicle Pollution

Proper maintenance of car and truck emission control systems doesn't just limit harmful emissions. It can also improve fuel efficiency and vehicle performance. It may even extend the life of the vehicle. Care in storing and handling gasoline and other solvents also reduces evaporative losses to the atmosphere.

Motor vehicle Inspection and Maintenance (I/M) programs are administered by DEC and the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles. I/M programs require annual emissions inspections and, when necessary, require repair of faulty emission systems. The NY Vehicle Inspection Program (NYVIP) is an important component of NYS' State Implementation Plan to meet the national ambient air quality standard for ozone.

More about Controlling Air Pollution from Motor Vehicles:

  • VW Settlement Information - NYS expects to receive funding from the VW Settlement to support the reduction of NOx emissions, a major cause of smog and air pollution.
  • NY State Clean Diesel Grant Program - Funding is available for eligible diesel emission reduction solutions ranging from verified emission control and idling reduction technologies to certified engine and vehicle replacements.
  • Catalytic Converters - The Department adopted California's catalytic converter requirements: a) the prohibition of installing used catalytic converters; and b) standards for new aftermarket converters.
  • Light-Duty Low and Zero Emission Vehicles - NYS' LEV program is modeled after the California CAL-LEV program
  • Medium- and Heavy-Duty Zero Emission Vehicles - On July 14, 2020, Governor Cuomo, along with the governors from 14 states and the Mayor of Washington D.C., signed a joint MOU committing to work collaboratively to advance and accelerate the market for electric medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.
  • Heavy Duty Vehicle Idling Law - NYS Environmental Conservation Law prohibits heavy-duty vehicles, including diesel trucks and buses, from idling for more than five minutes at a time.
  • Heavy Duty Diesel Vehicle Inspection/Maintenance Program - The Department has developed regulations to implement an emissions inspection and maintenance I/M program for on-road heavy duty diesel vehicles (HDDVs).
  • Part 248 Annual Reporting Requirements and Waivers - Regulated Entities, such as State Agencies and Authorities, must report all of their diesel-powered heavy-duty vehicles (even those exempt from BART Requirements) on both the Annual Report, and Vehicle Inventory forms, available from DEC.
  • Motor Vehicle Pollution Facts & Tips - In many urban areas, motor vehicles are the single largest contributor to ozone, a major component of smog.
  • Air Resources Research Summaries - Air Resources research papers for technical audiences
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  • Contact for this Page
    Division of Air Resources
    Vehicle Pollution
    625 Broadway
    Albany, NY 12233-3255
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