NRDC Applauds 13-State Action to Clean Up Dirty Diesels; Assails Engine Makers for their Dirty Diesels

NEW YORK (November 20, 2000) - NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) today applauded the action of more than a dozen states that announced major initiatives to clean up diesel trucks sold in their states.

"For over a decade, Americans have breathed unnecessarily high levels of toxic diesel pollution, thanks to the diesel engine makers’ refusal to clean up their products," said Richard Kassel, NRDC senior attorney and coordinator of its Dump Dirty Diesels Campaign. "Thanks to ground-breaking leadership by California and other states in every region of the country, loopholes that would allow this situation to continue will soon be closed."

California will be the first state in the nation to adopt supplemental emissions tests to ensure that diesel emissions do not exceed pollution limits on the state’s roads and highways. Twelve other states have agreed to adopt California’s program, once it is finalized and approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, only California can set its own emissions standards, but states can "opt-in" to EPA-approved California programs. STAPPA/ALAPCO (the association of the nation’s state and local air pollution officials) played a critical role in developing this multi-state strategy for its member states. Current law requires only that engines meet emission standards in certain laboratory conditions, leaving a huge gap between engine emission certifications and real-world emissions.

Diesel engines emit huge quantities of particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and more than 40 toxic compounds that have been linked to cancer and other serious health impacts. Particulate matter is associated with increased asthma emergencies, bronchitis, various cardiopulmonary ailments, cancer, heart disease and premature death. Nitrogen oxides contribute to ground-level ozone formation, smog, and nutrient pollution in waterways. Up to half of the particulate matter measured in the nation’s largest cities comes from diesel tailpipes. Roughly one-quarter of the nation’s nitrogen oxides come from diesel engines. Diesel exhaust (or diesel particulate) has been found to be carcinogenic by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the California Air Resources Board, the World Health Organization and other public health agencies around the world.

In 1999, seven diesel engine manufacturers (Caterpillar, Cummins, Detroit Diesel, Mack, Navistar International, Volvo and Renault) agreed to consent decrees that required the payment of the largest air pollution fine in history, rather than face trial in a case involving their decade-long practice of building engines that met EPA emissions tests in laboratory tests, yet emitted as much as three times as much pollution on the open road. As a result of these industry actions, Americans continue to breathe the smog equivalent of 65 million additional cars on the roads.

The consent decrees require the companies to pass a series of supplemental emission tests, starting in 2002, to ensure that diesel engines meet emissions standards in all real-world operating conditions. The consent decrees expire in 2004. Federal law prohibits EPA from requiring all manufacturers to pass these supplemental emission tests until 2007, leaving a three-year gap between the expiration of the consent decrees and the initiation of an industry-wide compliance program. The state programs announced today will cover the 2005 and 2006 engines, filling the gap before the federal testing program begins in 2007.

"The companies’ slow steps towards compliance demonstrate clearly that they would rather fight than switch," said Kassel. "The states will be fighting back with a great complement to ongoing EPA enforcement efforts, and the result will be cleaner diesel engines on the roads, in every region of the country."

NRDC applauded the states participating in the initiative, which include California, Connecticut, Delaware Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont.