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February 18, 2021 11:45 AM, EST

EPA Steps Up Efforts to Catch Emissions Tampering

EPA enforcement alert

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is in its second year of a four-year enforcement effort to catch truckers who are installing emissions defeat devices or otherwise tampering with emissions systems.

But catching the bad actors — many of them now operating below the agency’s radar — is getting more challenging every day, an EPA enforcement official said of the national priority.

“Tampering among medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks is a significant concern to the agency,” Evan Belser, deputy director of EPA’s Air Enforcement Division, told Transport Topics. “We are seeing information to suggest that it is prevalent and deserving of our attention, even though we aren’t in a position to quantify it in precise terms.”

EPA's Evan Belser

Belser via EPA

“When it comes to the largest trucks on the road, the stakes are high,” Belser said. “A tampered heavy-duty truck is a substantial source of excess oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter, and those pollutants harm people’s health and they undercut state efforts to achieve ambient air quality standards.”

So far, the effort has resulted in filing cases against a dozen diesel aftermarket defeat device sellers or fleets tampering with trucks, not including cases filed against other transportation modes, Belser said.

In a December agency “alert,” EPA reminded truck and car owners that the Clean Air Act prohibits anyone from manufacturing, offering for sale, selling, or installing any part or component that bypasses or defeats emissions controls.

“Our recent enforcement alert highlights the agency has resolved civil and criminal enforcement cases involving tampering and aftermarket defeat devices for medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks,” the agency said on Feb. 17. “In addition to the recent cases against Performance Diesel Inc. and Rockwater Northeast LLC, as detailed in the alert, other resolved enforcement cases included ELM Performance, OE Construction, Abbyland Trucking, Freerksen Trucking, Curt’s Truck and Diesel Services, E.L.M. Repair and Refrigeration, Hartl Diesel, Powerstroke Enginuities, PSP Diesel, Red Knight Transportation (aka “Rural King”), and Royal Crown Bottling Corp.”

As evidence of hefty penalties violators can receive: Performance Diesel was slapped with a $1.1 million fine for selling more than 5,500 truck aftermarket products; Rockwater, a hauling service for the oil and gas industry in Pennsylvania, paid a $2 million penalty and one of its employees was sentenced to six months to prison.

To warn its members, American Trucking Associations last month sent a heads-up about the national priority effort, and the possible repercussions of installing or buying the aftermarket emissions defeat devices.

Glenn Kedzie, energy and environmental counsel at the American Trucking Associations

Kedzie

“My advice is be aware that this is happening, and do an assessment of your operations in your vehicles to make sure that you’re not caught up in the web,” Glen Kedzie, ATA’s energy and environmental affairs counsel, told TT. “An enforcement case takes a long time and they (EPA) don’t share what they’re investigating, or tell you exactly where they are in the process.”

Why do truckers do it, when they know it’s against the law and that they can face large civil fines?

It’s all about the cost savings, Kedzie said.

“You don’t have to do emissions maintenance on a truck, or don’t have to put on a DPF,” Kedzie said, referring to a diesel particulate filter. “It increases mileage, it saves maintenance, and you prolong the life of the emissions equipment if you decide to later reconnect it.”

But Belser said the trouble is that the devices are not only illegal, they also are unfair to truckers who abide by regulatory emissions requirements. “When they tamper they’re putting people’s health at risk, and undercutting those people that take the time and expense to do it right,” he said. “Our goal is not to catch people, it’s to prevent violations.”

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There are a range of modifications that can be done, Belser said. “Some are software only, and won’t even require you to pick up a wrench. The tampering of primary concern for us involves not only retuning the engine but also the removal of filters and catalysts that are critical to reduce the amount of air pollution that leaves the stack. A lot of the tampering that we see can be done by most service technicians with basic proficiency.”

Belser said it’s getting more challenging day-by-day to catch violators.

The initiative has been “highly successful, but at the same time tampering will continue to be a persistent problem,” he said.

Belser added, “In past years manufacturers and marketers of defeat devices were open and notorious about it. They weren’t hiding it. Some of them, even in the heavy-duty sector, hid behind claims that the parts were used solely for competition motor sports and other pretexts for tampering.”

To catch violators, the agency’s investigator acts on tips they receive, monitor the internet looking for illegal defeat technologies on sale, and can even issue subpoenas requiring companies to testify.

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