Complying With Clean Air Laws Is Heavy-Duty Proposition
By Mike Conlon
Heavy-duty engine rebuilders have a long and welcome nonhistory with Federal and state clean air agencies. At their inception, the major agencies – the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) – focused on emissions from automobiles, both by requiring cleaner new engines and emissions testing of older cars. They both purposely avoided imposing major requirements on heavy duty vehicles.
Over the last seven or eight years, however, because the clean air gains from automobiles are getting harder and more expensive to achieve, these agencies have looked more at heavy duty applications for emissions reduction. This was done mostly by requiring that new engines be made much cleaner, with little attempt made to reduce emissions from in-use vehicles.
EPA did affect rebuilders by adopting some fairly benign regulations regarding how an engine had to be rebuilt, largely to ensure that emissions reduction devices included with an engine were not ignored or bypassed when the engine was rebuilt. But no attempt was made to actually lower emissions from rebuilt engines.
Now, however, both EPA and CARB are taking steps to reduce emissions from heavy-duty engines already in use by initiating heavy duty retrofit programs. These programs could be a blessing – or a bane – to independent rebuilders and service facilities, depending upon how they are administered.
Lacking statutory authority to require that heavy-duty vehicles be retrofitted, EPA initiated a voluntary program last year to obtain commitments from fleets to retrofit their older vehicles. EPA’s modest goal was to obtain commitments in 2000 to retrofit 10,000 vehicles. In fact it obtained commitments for over 13,500 retrofits. Buoyed by this success, EPA has set an ambitious target of commitments for 100,000 vehicle retrofits this year and is likely to try to continue to expand the retrofit program even more in future years.
EPA’s retrofit program could provide significant opportunities for independent service establishments. The procedures to retrofit the engines, whether done at the same time as an engine rebuild or independently, may provide additional work for facilities repairing or rebuilding heavy duty engines. Of course, as used by EPA, the term "retrofit" covers a wide variety of procedures. Probably it is most often used to describe installation of after-engine emissions treatment devices such as particulate traps and oxidation catalysts. But it is also used to describe devices used in connection with engine combustion such as EGRs. And for EPA’s purposes, it would also include any method to reduce emissions including using a different fuel, such as low sulfur or biodiesel fuel, or even replacement of an old engine with a new one.
Any procedure or technology to reduce emissions may be designated a retrofit, but it must be approved by EPA before it qualifies for the voluntary program. It is this qualification process and how EPA applies it which could cause significant problems for non-OE dealer facilities, depending upon the resulting availability of the "approved" devices or processes to independent facilities.
Back in 1994, EPA began a similar, although involuntary program, for retrofitting urban buses. When each bus came in for its next major engine overhaul, the engine had to be retrofitted to reduce its emissions. The devices and processes used for the retrofit had to be ones pre-approved by EPA. Unfortunately, only a limited number of devices and processes were approved, and for many model engines only one retrofit device could be employed, which was often only available through the original engine manufacturer. As a result, many companies that serviced or rebuilt engines for urban transit companies lost that business because the technology was not made available to them so that they could "rebuild" the engine to meet the emissions reduction requirement. Instead, this business went to the manufacturer dealers who could do all the work. If something similar occurred here, even more business would be lost.
Fortunately, representatives of the independent heavy-duty aftermarket have been meeting with EPA and impressing upon them a need to ensure that the ability to retrofit is universal. This awareness combined with a larger universe of retrofit devices and processes would seem to have checked any adverse or monopolistic effect which this new "voluntary" program might have.
The other major issue related to this program is funding. By far, most of the retrofits committed to in 2000 were for public vehicles with the costs supplied by state, city or local governments who wanted to get emissions credits for their efforts. However, the larger target can only be met if private fleets embrace the retrofit program, but they don’t need emission credits and would not seem willing to participate in the program unless its cost could be met in some way. EPA has little or no funding for this program. So, unless private funds or some other incentives are developed, the cost of a private fleet retrofit would have to be borne by the owner, an unlikely occurrence.
Nevertheless, EPA is pursuing the program with large private fleet owners and their trade associations.
California is even more ambitious. Its goal is to retrofit all diesel vehicles in the state to reduce their particulate matter and NOx emissions by at least 90 percent. CARB will also have to certify the allowable technologies, but it is likely that technologies approved by EPA will be accepted by CARB and vice versa. California has at least partially solved the monetary problem because it has a special state fund for heavy-duty air pollution reduction which is funded by state appropriations and supplemented by vehicle fees.
For more information on the EPA program, including a list of the approved retrofit technologies, you can go to www.epa.gov/otaq/retrofit/overview.htm. California also has a Web site for its program at www.arb.ca.gov/diesel/mobile.htm#hddinuse.
In my last column, I spoke about the ergonomics rule passed by OSHA in the dying days of the Clinton Administration. Well, you can forget about it. Congress recently passed legislation repealing the rule, and the legislation was signed by President Bush. The new administration has indicated it will consider a more limited ergonomics rule which will likely only target high risk occupations and will not require the employer to pay workers for costs related to any ergonomic injuries.
Mike Conlon is legal counsel for the Engine Rebuilders Association (AERA) and the Automotive Parts Rebuilders Association (APRA). He is an attorney with the Washington, DC, firm of Conlon, Frantz, Phelan, Knapp & Piers. You may e-mail Mike at email@example.com