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Published: Monday, 7/15/2002

Diesel politics, down and dirty

A recent contributor to the Readers' Forum commented on the annoyance of driving in the asphyxiating wake of diesel fumes spewed by buses and trucks. Probably owing to the great cloud of soot, the writer was laboring under the assumption that such vehicles don't have to conform to “any restrictions or control on their exhaust emissions.”

Actually, diesel-powered vehicles must meet federal emission regulations and, as it turns out, a new set of stricter standards is supposed to take effect in October. But the trucking lobby is trying to scuttle the new rules, pitting one diesel-engine manufacturer against another in the process.

It's a familiar story, with the added illustration of how special interests in Washington ruthlessly undercut even their own brethren for commercial advantage.

The Clean Air Trust, a bipartisan environmental watchdog group, cited the American Trucking Association and Caterpillar, Inc., as an “axle of evil” for teaming up in a lobbying blitz that threatens to undercut a four-year-old effort to curb diesel pollution.

Under threat from the Justice Department, diesel engine companies signed a consent agreement in 1998 to settle allegations that they skirted emissions standards by installing devices that turned off anti-pollution devices while trucks were on the road. New rules are due to take effect in October.

In April, the federal Environmental Protection Agency certified that an engine made by Cummins, Inc., met the new standards. Its rival, Caterpillar, which failed to come up with a qualifying power plant, immediately went to court seeking to have the Cummins certification invalidated, and is lobbying the EPA to avoid penalties.

In early June, the White House announced a new deregulation scheme that would allow engine makers to “trade emission-reduction credits,” presumably as an alternative to producing cleaner engines. And on June 19, the trucking association petitioned the EPA to hold off on the new diesel regulations.

Not so coincidentally, the petition came on the same day as the “President's Dinner,” a Republican fund-raiser in Washington that netted the GOP more than $30 million.

It would be a mistake to call the unprincipled assault on clean air by the trucking association and Caterpillar a smokescreen because it's all happening out in plain sight. But it's still dirty-diesel politics.

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