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Blowing smoke: The hypocrisy of EPA’s emissions mandates

If you asked me to name the one thing to have the biggest impact on the trucking industry ever, you may be surprised by my answer. This one thing has had an impact on every single one of us in some way. Its purpose is to make things better for...


If you asked me to name the one thing to have the biggest impact on the trucking industry ever, you may be surprised by my answer. This one thing has had an impact on every single one of us in some way. Its purpose is to make things better for everyone, but I believe it has failed to do that for a number of reasons.

The thing to which I refer is: emissions control. On paper it seems a no brainer, but in the real world it’s as useful as mud flaps on a tortoise.

Even the most stringent supporter and enforcer of emissions control, our friends down in California, have no real proof that the EPA regulations have had an impact on air quality.

In fact, the most noticeable difference in pollution levels came with the recent economic downturn, but the lower pollution wasn’t attributed to the lower levels of truck traffic, it was because of fewer numbers of large ships arriving and leaving the ports and less pollution from manufacturing.

Yes, that’s correct, container ships and other industry are the main polluters, yet every single truck put onto the highways of North America in the last decade has had to conform to EPA regulations.

Now, why is that? I honestly do not know, but I can be my cynical self and say that it’s because we’re an easy target, both in terms of the public perception of us as a whole and that we, as an industry, seem to have a guilt complex which makes us do as we’re told, no matter how silly the instruction.

Why do we act this way? Yes we have big vehicles that are slower than cars, we take up more room at intersections and we are very visible when things go wrong. But we perform a service – not just any old service either.

We keep every man, woman and child in the country fed, we deliver the materials their houses are made from, we deliver the medicine that makes them better when they’re unwell, we even deliver the cars that we get in the way of, so why do we, as an industry, let them push us around so much?

Now I’m not for one minute suggesting that we take advantage of the power that we have and hold the country to ransom. Let’s just be sensible about it.

Take for instance the emissions thing: we’re supposed to be saving the planet by introducing lower emission engines, yet we didn’t have to scrap the old ‘killer’ engines. No, we exported them to Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

So when we have a good wind coming from the south, we get the pleasure of breathing in our old exhaust smoke again. Those engines were said to be destroying the ozone layer, yet we share the same ozone layer no matter where we are in the world, so how can it be right that we allow other countries to – if we believe the hype – carry on killing us with their harmful emissions? After all, when the ozone layer goes, we’re all supposed to spontaneously combust, so does it matter if we create the hole or provide somebody else with the tools to do it?

That’s one way to look at it, but the thing that has had the biggest impact on us in the industry is the problems that we can get as a result of the EPA regulations on our engines. Take EGR as an example.

A diesel engine requires two things to run: fuel and air. The better the quality of either and the better the engine will run. That’s why we have charge air coolers (CAC), to provide a good gulp of dense fresh air. We then add hot exhaust gas and take away any improvements we’d made with the CAC.

We also have all kinds of valves and coolers, all of which are controlled by sensors and when it all, inevitably, goes wrong, the engine will use a lot more fuel and will, usually, be belching out a cloud of black smoke.

That’s hardly environmentally friendly. Coupled with the reliability issues seen on many low-emissions engines, we also had to suffer poorer fuel economy post-2002, so we end up burning more of the stuff that, supposedly, causes the pollution in the first place.

We have the best weapon to fight this bureaucratic nightmare: the word ‘NO.’ Unfortunately it doesn’t appear to be in our vocabulary!


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