Regulation Double Standards

Despite the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to cut down on harmful diesel exhaust, the organization has recently agreed to compromise those environmental efforts for money’s sake. In issuing its Final Rule Noncomformance Penalties (NCP), the organization revealed it will agree to certify heavy heavy-duty diesel engines even if they don’t meet the 2010 NOx emission limit. The catch: In order for engine makers to produce and sell their products, they will have to pay fines on a per-engine basis, which will go straight to the federal government.

That’s great news for some engine makers who had previously counted on penalty payments as a means of continuing to produce sub-standard engines. Some organizations were still struggling to achieve full compliance with the EPA’s standards, and the recent reversal by the EPA opens up the engine marketplace to these manufacturers. Although Navistar, one of the greatest beneficiaries of the new industry rules, commended the ruling and plans to move forward with the expectation of paying penalties for certain engines, it also said in a statement that the company continues to work toward clean engine technology and toward making a transition to those technologies in the future. The statement also revealed that the EPA’s announcement would not lead to changes in any engines that had already received approval under the prior standards. Qualcomm is an example of a company who is taking steps to limit emissions by providing a product that makes fleets more managable and less wasteful.

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Doing just enough to get by

The administrator for the EPA signed the Final Rule earlier this year. In doing so, the EPA stated it was establishing nonconformance penalties to manufacturers because the established standards set by the Clean Air Act had already been met. Although the organization still has an upper limit for engine emissions, there is now a more flexible boundary in which engines that fail to meet applicable emission standards can be issued a certificate of conformity. Engine manufacturers will be paying for the right to build illegal engines. After submitting a monetary payment to the government, that organization will receive certification for the engines and be able to enter them into the engine marketplace. Payment amounts can vary on a number of factors, including the EPA’s estimated cost of compliance for engines that present a “near worst case” scenario, as well as the degree to which the engine exceeds established emissions standards. All penalties will be assessed according to a preexisting penalty formula.

NCPs also proposed for other vehicles

In issuing its Final Rule summary, the EPA also noted that a proposal exists to make NCPs available to “medium heavy-duty diesel engines.” But this proposal is still up in the air because the environmental organization is still reviewing data and other commentary and has yet to determine whether it wants to move forward with these penalties. It is unknown when a decision will be reached regarding these proposed NCPs. The actions on the part of the EPA have been suspected as being financially motivated, and the NCPs also seem to fly in the face of other initiatives launched by the EPA to clean up and improve diesel engines. Significant progress has been made in recent years to develop more efficient diesel engines, signaling big successes for the EPA. The EPA also put $30 million toward funding a clean diesel project known as the Diesel Emission Reduction Program.

For now, at least, it seems illegal diesel engines will continue to be allowed into the engine marketplace and onto roadways. The move seems to serve as a setback in the EPA’s gradual march toward clean engine technology in exchange for financial gains. Meanwhile, engine manufacturers are buying more time before stricter compliance standards are enforced.

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