Clearing the Air on Emissions Tampering

  • December 07, 2013

There will always be folks who think that for every rule there is an exception – and unfortunately, there’s no shortage of misguided people willing to demonstrate it.

You’ve no doubt seen or heard about the advertisements that are out there in print and cyberspace from repair/maintenance shops offering to “service” your truck in order to enhance its fuel economy. While the ad might not explicitly state it, most people know what we’re talking about here – tampering with the truck’s emissions controls. It’s not a new problem but those marketing such services have become more brazen in recent years as the new EPA-mandated smog-free engines came on stream and it became clear that the federal and provincial governments in Canada were ill-equipped to deal with the situation.

While increased fuel economy is a good thing (it reduces greenhouse gases too) tampering with a truck’s mandated emissions control devices is not. At its March 2012 meeting, the CTA Board of Directors called for action to put an end to the practice. CTA followed up with governments in writing and has held various meetings with the federal ministers and departments of environment, natural resources and transport, as well as the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators. A number of the provincial associations took similar action with their provincial governments and agencies.

Unfortunately, what this launched was another round of that great Canadian past-time — political/bureaucratic ping-pong between the various departments and the federal and provincial governments. Whereas in the US, legislative and enforcement authority for tampering rests squarely with the Environmental Protection Agency (which, by the way, has been known to slap down hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines on companies that provide emission control-defeating devices), Environment Canada contends that it has no authority under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) or any other legislation to deal with tampering. Its authority ends at the retail sale of the equipment. The department contends the authority to prevent tampering rests with the provinces. You know how this song goes …

The response from the provinces has been lukewarm at best. This is clearly not an issue most have given much thought to. Many provinces do not even have the legal authority to lay charges against garages for environmental tampering. Nor do they (as a collective) seem overly excited about allocating resources to the problem. The province’s road enforcement resources are focussed on safety issues, not environmental issues – as they very well should be. Besides, it is difficult at roadside for an inspector to identify modifications that even skilled diesel mechanics would be challenged to uncover.

The CCMTA is examining the inclusion of an inspection for tampering as part of the PMVI standards re-vamp currently under development. So there is some hope/progress, although it appears that not all provinces support including a tampering element in the PMVI, which is a vehicle safety inspection.

Meanwhile, the problem is not going away. For example, provincial environmental inspectors on the British Columbia lower mainland recently conducted emissions tests of about 12,000 trucks.

Although they were not specifically looking for evidence of tampering, the results could lead one to the conclusion that tampering is a serious problem: Twenty per cent of all model year 2010 and newer trucks tested were found to be high emitters using standard-based cut-points. While a decline in the maintenance standards of vehicles would also be a contributing factor, it is hard not to suspect that tampering is playing a role with results like this.

At its October 2013 meeting, the CTA board took stock of the situation and reaffirmed its position that tampering with emissions controls is a serious matter that not only undermines the environmental performance of the trucking industry but also creates an un-level competitive playing field. The board repeated its position that targeted enforcement of the people undertaking the tampering – the garages, repair shops and service centres – is where governments should be focusing their efforts and resources. In addition, it is recommended the Government of Canada introduce an amendment to the CEPA that would empower Environment Canada to fine/sanction garages and fleets engaged in environmental tampering. The CTA board further recommends that the Canadian Council of Environmental Ministers ensure that all provinces have legislation in place to take action against those that tamper with the emissions equipment on heavy trucks.

This would give Canada’s truck environmental laws some real teeth as well as bolster governments’ credibility as stewards of the environment. From the very start, the trucking industry has been a leader in meeting its environmental responsibilities. Let’s not let a few opportunists spoil that unmatched reputation.