Monday, December 23, 2013

Foreign Profits Win Out Over Colombian Lungs

Lobbying by U.S. truck makers means Bogotanos will suffer from smoke-spewing trucks for years to come, The Chicago Tribune reports.  
It's a story which should embarass all Colombians - and shame those of us from the United States.

This year, the Colombian Ministry of the Environment planned to require emission filters on all new
A Coca Cola truck contributes to Bogotá's air - and lungs.
Filters can remove 90% of particulate pollutants.
trucks - an environmental/health measure long required in developed countries.

But U.S. truck manufacturers, which dominate the Colombian market, cried out to heaven, the Chicago Tribune reports. The air quality measures gave unfair advantage to European manufacturers, they claimed (because the Europeans make cleaner vehicles, perhaps?). The truck makers and buyers also claimed that environmental measures were too expensive for Colombia - even tho the lack of such controls costs Colombians many billions of dollars every decade in health and other costs, according to Universidad de los Andes Dean of Engineering Eduardo Behrentz (as well as untold human suffering).

Bogotá's buses don't bother with filters, either. 
Conveniently, the malleable Colombian environmental authorities postponed the new filter requirement until early 2015, the Tribune reports (and we'll see what happens in 2015).

"The Colombian government is on the (industry) side, and it's allowing the import of technologies that are considered obsolete in the country where they were created," Behrentz told the Tribune.

The truck makers and buyers apparently also used free trade agreements Colombia has signed to argue that health and environmental measures impose unfair restrictions on capitalism, according to the Tribune piece.

But the immense health damage from air pollution, which causes thousands of premature deaths every year in Bogotá alone, means other kinds of restrictions on people's lives.

Of course, trucks aren't the only culprits contaminating our lungs. Spend a short time on a Bogotá street and you'll see that cars, buses, trucks and factories all share the responsibility - as do the authorities who turn a blind eye to the problem.

EcoPetrol recently invested huge sums to lower the sulphur levers in the country's diesel fuel to 50 parts per million - a respectable level for a developing nation. But Behrentz says that money's wasted as long as the country doesn't require emissions controls and allows decades-old vehicles to continue operating.
Even police vehicles flout environmental laws.

Behrentz, who helped write the law which was postponed, sounds embarrased about his own government.

"I don't praise my own government that chose (foreign companies') interest over the interest of the Colombian people," he told the Tribune.

Also check out my blog (in bad Spanish) specifically about air pollution:

www.airenuevobogota.wordpress.com
The result...smog blankets Bogotá.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

2 comments:

Andy Johnson said...

Air quality is one issue that would make me leave Bogota. I am hopeful that things will improve but it sounds like it will take a lot of time

Miguel said...

Hi Andy,

Don't hold your breath. I'm afraid that this decision is indicative of the nulo priority which 'environmental' give to air quality.

A few weeks ago I talked to several officials in Bogotá's Secretaria del Ambiente, its Environmental Secretariat. I found absolutely no motivation to control air pollution. None at all. It's really tragic. If officials exhibited the same attitude toward other causes of mortality - such as infectious disease or crime - there'd be scandal. But since nobody gives a damn about air pollution...

Thanks for your comment.

And Merry Xmas.

Mike