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Trucks Escape Pollution Scrutiny

June 8, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Large diesel trucks belch out millions of tons of smog-causing chemicals and microscopic soot, yet face far weaker environmental controls than cars, state regulators and environmentalists complained today.

While the government pushes for cleaner-running cars and sport utility vehicles, the environmentalists and regulators said not enough is being done to cut pollution from the more than 5 million tractor-trailer rigs, dump trucks and other heavy vehicles.

``There’s probably no more offensive air pollution than the thick, noxious pollution from big trucks,″ said Bill Becker, who represents state and county air pollution agencies in Washington.

Becker joined environmental and public health groups at a news conference recommending cleaner diesel fuel and tougher emission controls on the smoke-belchers.

The Environmental Protection Agency has begun considering a requirement for low-sulfur diesel fuel, although no specific proposal has been issued. Two years ago, the EPA issued tougher emission controls on heavy trucks, to begin in 2004.

``We agree that more may be required to reduce pollution from heavy trucks and buses, and we are presently considering the feasibility of more protective standards,″ EPA spokesman David Cohen said.

Pollution from large trucks is gaining increased attention as the EPA is proposing dramatically tougher emission controls on cars and popular sport utility vehicles as well as cutting sulfur content in gasoline by 90 percent.

The first of a series of public hearings on the proposed air-pollution rules for cars and the gasoline sulfur levels is convening Wednesday in Philadelphia.

But state regulators and environmentalists said trucks, although far smaller in numbers, comprise an equally huge air pollution source.

The 5 million large trucks account for 3 million tons of smog-causing nitrogen oxide annually and half of the fine particulates, or soot, that come from mobile sources. Diesel fuel contains almost twice as much sulfur as even today’s gasoline.

Nevertheless, regulation of large trucks is now at about the same stage as the regulation of cars in the mid-1970s, said Rick Kassel of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Unlike cars, large trucks are not required to have pollution-controlling catalytic converters, nor are they subject to annual emission inspections.

Paul Billings of the American Lung Association said tailpipe pollution from diesel trucks includes large amounts of soot, which is particularly dangerous because the microscopic particles imbed deeply into the lungs. Diesel particles also are toxic, raising the specter of cancer, he said.

The EPA has regulated diesel truck emissions since the late 1980s, reducing the amount of soot coming out of trucks by about 90 percent. Releases of smog-causing nitrogen oxide also has been reduced and is expected to be cut further beginning in 2004.

Becker said advanced technologies _ catalytic converters and nitrogen oxide ``traps″ _ aren’t going to be installed on heavy trucks until the amount of sulfur is dramatically reduced in the diesel fuel. Sulfur inhibits proper performance of pollution control equipment.

The petroleum industry has pledged to fight an EPA proposal to cut sulfur in gasoline from 300 parts per million to 30 parts per million and has aired misgivings about sulfur reductions in diesel fuel as well.

Trucking companies and independent drivers, meanwhile, have complained about the added cost of low-sulfur fuel as well as new costs associated with tighter truck emissions controls. Diesel engine manufacturers said they can meet the EPA’s emissions requirements for 2004, but industry representatives have questioned whether additional reductions can be made without low-sulfur fuel.

Meanwhile, the state regulators and environmentalists said too little is being done to ensure trucks comply with existing emission standards. While diesel engines are certified after emissions tests at the factory, trucks are not subject to tests for soot or nitrogen oxide once on the road.

Last October, the Justice Department announced that more than 1.1 million trucks, whose engines had passed emission inspections at the factory, actually were polluting much more than allowed because of devices designed to overcome emissions controls.

The manufacturers agreed to a $1 billion settlement.

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