EPA deserves ‘hard NOx’

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Paul Richards is editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. E-mail [email protected] or call (610) 993-9430.

In a last-ditch effort to save the trucking industry from a misguided, multi-billion-dollar folly, the American Trucking Associations has reached for its biggest hammer and petitioned President Bush to delay this October’s implementation of new diesel emissions standards conjured up by the Environmental Protection Agency.


As you no doubt remember, a few years ago, EPA essentially punished heavy-duty diesel engine manufacturers for failure to comply with a law that didn’t exist. The sting went like this:

At the time, diesel-engine emission-certification consisted of city, or “transient-cycle,” tests only, which diesel manufacturers handily passed. Because there was no steady-state standard, engine makers allowed their electronic control units (ECUs) to advance injection timing under cruising conditions, thereby improving fuel economy, but slightly increasing oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions.

Somehow, EPA (which, by the way, was quite familiar with engine certification and its limitations) twisted the scenario, and declared the ECU to be a “defeat device” (to defeat what?). The punishment inflicted by the agency was a “consent decree,” signed by diesel engine manufacturers only to avoid more expensive litigation. It cost them more than $1 billion in fines and added costs. For a little salt on the wound, EPA also moved up its 2004 emissions requirements to October of this year.

It was kind of like installing a new stop sign at an intersection, then arresting everyone who used to drive through that intersection without stopping. It would have been a great time for a class-action lawsuit, brought by engine makers, against EPA.

But this is now, and ATA’s petition is based on information that wasn’t available when the extortion, I mean consent, decree was signed. That information, regarding 2002 heavy-duty diesel engines, strongly indicates that the EPA incorrectly estimated:

  • Initial, end-user purchase premiums;
  • Fuel-economy penalties, which we’re now told will be 3 to 5 percent;
  • Added maintenance costs;
  • Reliability issues, which are still an unknown, because engine manufacturers were deprived of two years of testing, and have had to rush the engines into production;
  • Residual value of vehicles equipped with the new engines;
  • Overall, adverse economic impact, while overstating emissions reduction.

I hope George W. heeds ATA’s petition because, clearly, a higher authority needs to step in and stop what can only be described as EPA’s irrational vendetta against diesel engine manufacturers, OEMs and end users.

Consider that vehicle, or mobile-source, pollution is by no means the largest contributor to air pollution. Power plants are. And, as a part of mobile-source pollution, commercial diesel engines contribute only around 20 percent.

Seems to me that, if EPA were really serious about improving air quality, it would be cracking down on the gross polluters. Yet the agency recently, unbelievably, relaxed emissions standards for power plants.

And, in the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do department, you should know that the EPA is hardly a model environmental citizen, having been named in a suit for failure to comply with a provision in the 1992 Energy Policy Act. That law requires federal agencies in larger cities to phase in purchases of alternative fuel vehicles starting in 1996, with 75 percent of their vehicles using alt-fuels by 1999 and thereafter.

Earthjustice attorney Jay Tutchton has accused EPA and several other government agencies of “wholesale noncompliance” with the law. The environmental law firm is representing the Center for Biological Diversity, Bluewater Network and the Sierra Club in the lawsuit.

While no such environmental group is likely to defend diesel power, they’ve done a service by helping to finger the EPA for being as capricious and arbitrary in its own compliance as it is in its rulemaking. In my opinion, if reason is to prevail, the agency desperately needs to be knocked down a peg or two.