Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Rolling Coal

Volkswagen got nailed when it became clear that its fleet of diesel-powered cars, up to 11.5 million of them worldwide, were belching pollutants well-beyond permitted levels. Modern diesel engines can actually be environmentally cleaner than their gasoline counterparts, but it costs more to build an engine to achieve that goal. For VW, it was easier and cheaper to use tainted software to make their vehicles look compliant… than actually to be compliant.
With a lot of right wingers believing that the notion of “global climate change” from fossil fuel emissions is nothing more than, as Donald Trump put it, a “hoax,” there is a new movement against environmental responsibility, beyond the official Republican platform to that effect, embraced by a rebellious few with toxicity on their minds. It’s called “rolling coal.”
“There is a new menace on America’s roads: diesel truck drivers who soup up their engines and remove their emissions controls to ‘roll coal,’ or belch black smoke, at pedestrians, cyclists and unsuspecting Prius drivers. [See photo above]
“Sgt. Chris Worthington of the Montrose Police Department [Colorado] here is out to stop them. ‘You can hear those trucks across town, driving like idiots,’ he said on a recent Friday evening patrol. He is among the first law enforcement officers in the country to be trained at ‘smoke school’ to pick up the skills to police the coal rollers.” New York Times, September 4th. While modifying your engine to avoid installed pollution controls violated federal law, it is not a statute that is generally pursued by the fed. Enforcement, if there is enforcement at all, generally rests with the states.
“[While] official tallies of coal rolling do not exist, there are signs that smoke, whether from intentional belching or not, is a growing public nuisance. In Colorado, complaints over diesel smoke have risen 5 percent over the last two years. In California, complaints about smoking vehicles to the California Air Resources Board have jumped from under 700 a month, on average, two years ago to more than 1,000 now.
“State legislatures, as well as local law enforcement agencies, are starting to take action… Last year, New Jersey became the first state to explicitly ban rolling coal, going beyond the federal laws that already prohibit drivers from tinkering with emissions controls. A similar bill is on the table in Illinois, while Colorado and Maryland have defeated proposed bans…
“In Colorado, a bill that would have made rolling coal a misdemeanor died in a G.O.P.-controlled State Senate in April. Still, an obscure Colorado state law, a holdover from the days when diesel was far dirtier, allows officers to cite coal rollers that blow smoke for at least five seconds at more than 40 percent opacity, or thickness.
“Using a ‘smoke machine’ that burns toluene, [Raymond Elick, who runs the smoke school at the Colorado Health and Environment Department] has trained 55 police officers to discern smoke opacity: Zero percent opacity is clear air; 100 percent opacity lets no light through… ‘If it’s smokin’, it’s broken,’ Mr. Elick said. ‘If you see a smoky truck running down the street, that’s probably 40-50 percent, and that’s pretty darn smoky,’ he said. ‘If all of the light disappears over that path, if it’s a really bad coal roller, it could be approaching 100 percent.’” NY Times.
Neither the EPA nor state authorities are out to prosecute professional tractor-pulling events, where these smokers came to fame. “Depending on whom you ask, rolling coal is a juvenile prank, a health hazard, a stand against rampant environmentalism, a brazen show of American freedom. Coal rollers’ frequent targets: walkers, joggers, cyclists, hybrid and Asian cars and even police officers.” NY Times.
Sporting bumper-stickers that have slogans like “Prius Repellant,” those hoax-believing drivers who have modified their trucks are rather passionate in their right to belch black smoke: “[To] diesel owners like Corey Blue of Roanoke, Ill., the very efforts to ban coal rolling represent the worst of government overreach and environmental activism. ‘Your bill will not stop us!’ Mr. Blue wrote to Will Guzzardi, a state representative who has proposed a $5,000 fine on anyone who removes or alters emissions equipment.
“‘Why don’t you go live in Sweden and get the heck out of our country,’ Mr. Blue wrote. ‘I will continue to roll coal anytime I feel like and fog your stupid eco-cars.’” NY Times. Indeed, there is a deep philosophical divide that seems to make the world a much nastier place than it is already. It has created a measurable statistical difference. For the science-averse, their willingness to accept inflicting serious and continuing damage and pain on others remains incomprehensible to me. Unknowingly… or intentionally…
I’m Peter Dekom, and even the proposed $5000 fine for intentionally rolling coal seems way too low.

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