old Art Institute
The former Art Institute building on the Blvd. of the Allies will soon be home to the URA and other City offices.

At their monthly meeting today, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is expected to approve new and eco-friendly construction guidelines for the city.

The new guidelines, modeled after the city’s existing Clean Construction rules, require that any project receiving $2.5 million or more in public funding must use the “best available” clean technology on their equipment and construction vehicles.

Rachel Filippini, executive director of the nonprofit Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP), explains that the current standard for “best available” mainly concerns powering equipment with ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel and requiring the latest particulate filters on those machines.

“This is really about getting at tailpipe emissions,” she says, adding that the language of the rules is meant to allow flexibility as economics change and green technologies improve.

GASP and other local environmental groups have been advocating for clean public construction standards for a number of years.

While Mayor Peduto and Pittsburgh City Council first enacted clean construction guidelines for the city in 2011, the rule has so far only applied to the construction of a new bridge through the Duck Hollow section of Swisshelm Park, which breaks ground this May.

Filippini welcomes this new announcement, though she and her organization continue to push for city-related agencies — including the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA), ALCOSAN and the Sports & Exhibition Authority — to follow suit.

“We’d like all the city authorities that do any sort of construction activities to simply adopt the city’s guidelines,” says Filippini. “Ultimately, we’d like to see the county do it as well.”

Their efforts included a meeting with the PWSA on April 10.

PWSA’s Senior Manager of Public Affairs Will Pickering says the authority does have concerns about how adopting the new rules will affect the smaller trucking and hauling firms that make up key links in their supply chain.

“We’re beginning to assess whether the guidelines would have an impact on our construction projects and our contractors,” Pickering says. “These smaller firms may have older equipment that may not be in compliance with the guidelines.”

But for Filippini and her team at GASP, a single standard for construction is a step that would protect the environment and cut down on bureaucratic red tape.

“We don’t want to want to have four different versions of what’s going on,” she says. “Reducing diesel emissions, which are a significant air toxic known to cause cancer, is an important initiative that all city authorities and institutions that build in the city should take.”

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.