Operators of large truck fleets are under increased pressure to reduce polluting tailpipe emissions, and the trend is accelerating. In the United States, where vehicle emissions programs have been in place for several years, fleet operators have experienced first hand the cost and grief associated with failing emissions tests. Given the political popularity of such programs, they won’t disappear anytime soon. Ontario, for instance, is set to introduce one of its own early next year.
Fleet operators have no interest in violating legislation. Accordingly, many place a heavy onus on truck manufacturers to solve this problem. Legislatively, the U.S. has moved to require manufacturers of new engines to achieve proscribed emissions limits for contaminants such as nitrogen oxide (NOx).
The U.S. programs have led to seemingly bizarre evasion tactics from engine manufacturers. The majority appear to have engaged in the development of devices that enable trucks to continue to emit high contaminant levels while deceiving emissions tests.
These so-called “defeat devices” are essentially software programs that alter the operation of pollution control equipment under highway driving conditions. According to the US Department of Justice (DoJ) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the defeat devices allow engines to meet EPA emission standards during testing but disable the emission control systems during normal highway driving. Defeat devices are sophisticated enough to meet the emission limits when vehicles run on the EPA’s 20-minute Federal Test Procedure, but to emit up to three times the limit of NOx on the highway. The U.S. Clean Air Act prohibits any manufacturer from selling a new motor vehicle engine equipped with such devices.
The first serious evidence of the use of defeat devices occurred in 1995. At that time, General Motors was forced to settle a court action brought by the DoJ and the EPA. The agencies alleged that GM installed a defeat device in 50,000 Cadillacs. The settlement cost GM US$45-million, which GM agreed to pay in order to prevent the government’s allegations from being fully reviewed by the courts.
The GM case captured relatively little attention and seemed to be an anomaly.
The DoJ/EPA regulators suspected that other manufacturers may have engaged in similar behavior, so they acquired and tested various engines to determine compliance with the Clean Air Act requirements. Shockingly, their investigation revealed that the manufacture of engines with defeat devices was widespread in the heavy engine manufacturing industry. Every time an engine was found that contained a defeat device, a prosecutor’s “dream case” was realized; the prosecutor only had to prove who manufactured the engine in order to win in court.
In June 1998, DoJ/EPA settled charges against American Honda Motor Co. for $267-million and Ford Motor Company for $7.8-million for selling vehicles with devices that defeat emissions control systems. Beyond the fact that several engine manufacturers were apparently committing illegal acts, the cumulative effect of their actions was continued emissions far in excess of projections by government officials (who had assumed that the law was being obeyed).
After the success of the Honda and Ford settlements, the DoJ/EPA decided to move even more aggressively on the remaining companies alleged to be selling tampered engines. This recently resulted in the largest Clean Air Act enforcement in history.
This October, seven manufacturers of heavy-duty diesel engines were forced to agree to a settlement: Caterpillar Inc., Cummins Engine Co., Detroit Diesel Corp., Mack Trucks Inc., Navistar International Transportation Corp., Renault Vehicles Industrial, and Volvo Truck Corp.
As part of the penalty, the companies will spend $850-million to introduce cleaner engines, rebuild old engines, recall pickup trucks, and conduct emissions testing. Research and development requirements (to design low-emitting engines) will cost a further $109.5-million. A cash penalty of $83.4-million rounds out the overall penalty to more than $1-billion dollars.
According to the DoJ/EPA, the settlement is expected to prevent 75 million tonnes of NOx emissions over the next 27 years (more that the total U.S. NOx emissions for three years). Between them, the seven companies control 95 per cent of the US heavy-duty diesel engine market. Cleaner engines will be introduced and one-third of total NOx emissions from diesel will be eliminated by 2003.
Canadian waste management and recycling professionals that operate diesel engines will be better able to keep the air clean, as well as the soil and groundwater.