Breathing down our throats

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There’s a political correctness in this land that equates opposition to an environmental regulation or mandate with opposing clean air, clean water and so on. Of course, the trucking industry is not against clean air. The issue simply isn’t as black-and-white as the environmentalists claim.

But the Environmental Protection Agency’s new diesel emissions standards – those coming this year and others coming down the road – will hurt our industry. It’s not like the industry hasn’t made dramatic improvements in diesel emissions over the years. Admittedly, EPA’s October 2002 mandate, which most engine makers will meet with exhaust gas recirculation technology, won’t require as great a technological leap as when the industry switched from mechanical to electronic engines. Still, the mandate will sting an industry that needs relief.

Perhaps, in better times, the industry would absorb the October mandate with nothing more than a grimace. In today’s economic climate, the beleaguered trucking industry braces for another blow.

And the 2002 mandate could be mild compared to the impact of ultra-low sulfur diesel that EPA will mandate beginning in 2006. Some experts say those rules will cost trucking companies more than 50 cents at the pump. That won’t matter to the EPA, since a major Supreme Court decision last year backed EPA’s authority to set environmental standards without conducting economic impact analyses.

Political correctness over environmental issues may make it impossible for the trucking industry to overcome EPA’s entrenched power. But recent success against “green” groups at the state and local level present hope of a better balance among all interests.

Consider a recent ruckus over traffic-choked roads in Atlanta. The Sierra Club and several Atlanta environmental groups jammed dozens of road improvement projects by claiming new roads would cause the city to exceed future air pollution limits. Using good judicial common sense, the courts ruled against the green groups in favor of the road builders.

A similar situation in Sacramento, Calif., pitted an anti-road coalition trying to tie up 59 highway projects worth $98 million against the Advocates for Safe and Efficient Transportation. The greens lost out in pre-trial motions and settled their case.

At the national level, clean air regulations aren’t going away. It’s too easy for isolated Washington bureaucrats to push through one-sided rules. But at the state and local level, judges and politicians must live with the consequences of anti-business decisions. What can you do? Get involved in local and state politics, keep an eye on “green” lawsuits and support groups that promote trucking concerns. Clean air isn’t free, at least not for the trucking industry.