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Clean air standards caught in Canadian jurisdictional limbo

The heavy truck air quality regulations culminating in the 2010 “smog-free” truck engines have been heralded by governments and industry alike as among the most important clean air initiatives in history.

The heavy truck air quality regulations culminating in the 2010 “smog-free” truck engines have been heralded by governments and industry alike as among the most important clean air initiatives in history.

The regulations (which were introduced in the US and Canada) have been credited with reducing the incidence of asthma and lung cancer. They are held out as an example of international cooperation and harmonization.

Getting there was no easy feat. In order to comply with the law, engine manufacturers invested billions of dollars in research and testing. Customers paid an “environmental premium” on the purchase price for the new equipment. They also saw fuel economy decrease (a trade-off for cleaner air) and maintenance costs rise.

These additional costs were and are painful. But, most people in the industry have taken the view that the emissions standards are the right thing to do – for the planet, for our children; and, ultimately for the industry which has for too long been a convenient whipping boy and easy target for environmentalists and politicians.

The pain that individual companies felt was mitigated in part by the fact that everyone was supposed to be in the same boat; that your competitor was going to have the same challenges as you in trying to get your customers to pay more to cover the increased costs. It was supposed to be a collective pain.

However, there are always those who will seek to get a leg up on everyone else by trying to find a way around the rules.

By now most people in the trucking industry have at least heard about the repair shops and garages that seem quite happy to dismantle or otherwise tamper with the new trucks’ air quality controls for a fee. Some of the people involved in this activity are doing so on the quiet, under the noses of the regulators. Others are more brazen and are taking out advertisements or promoting their “service” on the Web – in plain view of the regulators.

Surely, the regulators – especially Environment Canada, which introduced the regulations in the first place – don’t want to see people tampering with the engines in a blatant attempt to get around the emissions standards. Surely, they have some mechanism for actually enforcing their own law. You think?

When CTA brought this issue to Environment Canada’s attention, we thought they’d be all over it. Instead, we were told that the regulations do not apply to modifications to vehicles after their first retail sale – even though it is acknowledged what these shops are doing affects emission performance, it falls under provincial/territorial jurisdiction.

So, CTA’s next step was to contact the provincial departments and ministries of transportation and offer to work with them to develop a strategy to target those facilities that are circumventing the emissions standards. It took some time, but some of the provincial representatives eventually acknowledged they do have the authority. Current provincial efforts are focused on perhaps tackling the issue through the periodic mandatory vehicle inspection. We’ll see.

The incessant ping-pong between the feds and the provinces is commonplace. Look at our industry’s experience with the federal hours-of-service regulations, for example. A disjointed approach to national standards and the enforcement of them is as Canadian as Hockey Night in Canada. 

But that doesn’t make it right. We hear a lot from governments these days about how they want to reduce red tape to make things better for the business community. That’s a good thing.

But, in the trucking industry as big or bigger concern than “red tape” is the lack of harmonization both in terms of regulations and their enforcement across the country and the resulting distortions visited upon the marketplace. A lack of enforcement of federal standards, in this case the emissions regulations, not only denigrates the credibility of those standards, it also tilts the playing field in favour of those who don’t comply. 

In part the problem is constitutional. Other times it’s administrative or just the way things have always been done. It doesn’t matter. It’s dumb and it’s costly and surely we should be mature enough as a nation to start dealing with these sorts of things in earnest.

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1 Comment » for Clean air standards caught in Canadian jurisdictional limbo
  1. Chris Schmidt says:

    I wonder if the government has taken into account the extra fuel being burned by these ‘smog free’ engines?
    When you calculate the kilometers travelled in a year, I think they would be amazed at the extra diesel that is burned, which has to come from somewhere, and be paid for by the end user. Not to mention the amount of coolant that these engines seem to ‘consume’. We are just now beginning to see the long term effects of recirculating exhaust gases on a diesel engine, and the lifespan of the engine is shortened significantly.
    These costs are incurred by the truck owner, and to say they can be passed onto the trucking companies customers is a farce-we all know that trucking is a cut-throat business, and when you combine these extra costs with the amount of downtime experienced with the new engines, it has put many operators in a dire financial position; in some cases owners have been put out of business.
    Huge price to pay, for a marginal improvement in air quality??

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