Senate Bans ‘Coal Rolling’ — Way to Bypass Pollution Controls on Diesel Vehicles

Tom Johnson | December 2, 2014 | Energy & Environment
Retrofitting diesel-powered cars and trucks with smokestacks drives up amount of soot, other pollution they spew into air

rolling coal
The state is trying to prevent diesel-fueled trucks and other vehicles from being retrofitted to allow them to spew more soot, smoke, and other pollutants into the air.

By a 76-0 vote, the Senate approved a bill (S-2418) that would prohibit vehicles from installing smokestacks on vehicles to disable their pollution controls, a modification that allows engines to maximize their power while increasing emissions.

The practice, dubbed “coal rolling,” is viewed as a protest by some owners of diesel cars and trucks against tougher regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency aimed at curbing soot and particulate emissions from motor vehicles.

“Individuals who coal roll are attempting to make a political expense of our air quality and our health and it is absolutely ludicrous,’’ said Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer), the sponsor of the bill.

Diesel trucks, power plants, and manufacturing facilities dump soot and fine particulate matter into the air. The federal government blames pollution from soot for causing tens of thousands of premature deaths each year, besides increasing respiratory ailments, asthma, and cardiovascular disease.

Last year the EPA agreed with an assertion by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection that the state has achieved federal health-quality standards for soot after years of failing to meet the requirement.

The state managed to reduce pollution with a variety of actions, including efforts by coal power plants to reduce emissions and a program to retrofit diesel vehicles with controls to curb soot and fine particulate matter.

“We have a program that has retrofitted a lot of vehicles that is basically removing the fine particulates from being emitted,’’ said Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the DEP. So far, the program has retrofitted 12,228 vehicles, including public school buses, commercial buses, public works vehicles, and garbage trucks, according to Hajna.

The bill passed by the Senate, which now moves to the Assembly, would stiffen fines from vehicles spewing pollution. Under the measure, anyone who violates the provision could be subject to a fine of up to $5,000 per violation.

“We need this legislation because it is not only one of the stupidest concepts ever, it is very dangerous,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Coal rolling is intimidation and harassment using pollution by polluters and their allies. By banning this we will be protecting our environment and public health from this absurd retrofitting.’’

In New Jersey, the problem has largely emerged in the northwest part of the state, he said. “It’s sort of a backlash against clean air.’’

Clean-energy advocates have long lobbied the state to move to alternative-fueled vehicles — primarily those that do not run on fossil fuels. Those efforts, however, have yet to be embraced by the state, particularly when it comes to electric-powered cars.

The infrastructure to allow such vehicles to be fueled outside of their owners’ homes and workplaces has not been developed enough to cure range-anxiety, which is when consumers worry that there are not enough places to recharge their electric cars.