Emissions Defeat Devices No Longer a Top Priority for EPA

The EPA is shifting its focus after years spent bringing down coal rollers and illegal tuners.
YouTube/Dippin' Diesel

Emissions defeat devices have been a prime target of the EPA. Recent years saw the federal agency fighting hard, particularly against the scourge of dirty tuned diesels smoking up the air. It now appears the EPA will be taking a different tack going forward as it realigns its enforcement priorities for the future.

The news comes via the Specialty Equipment Market Association, which you probably know better as SEMA. The trade association noted that the agency’s new National Enforcement and Compliance Initiative (NECI) does not include a focus on tackling aftermarket emissions defeat devices. The initiative covers the EPA’s plans for 2024 to 2027, and sees enforcement activity around defeat devices return to a basic core priority for the agency, as it was treated prior to 2020. Instead, the agency will prioritize issues like coal ash contamination, PFAS exposures, and mitigating climate change.

Speaking on the matter, SEMA President and CEO Mike Spagnola welcomed the new, more harmonious relationship between the EPA and the aftermarket. “The EPA’s decision to remove enforcement against aftermarket products from the NECI and return it to a standard priority is a recognition of our industry’s commitment to emissions compliance and the progress we’ve made,” said Spagnola.

For its part, SEMA has instituted measures to help the aftermarket comply with the EPA’s regulations. The SEMA Garage facilities in California and Michigan are equipped to allow tuning companies to test their products for compliance. The trade association allows companies to brand their products as having “SEMA Certified Emissions” to demonstrate to customers and the EPA that they’re playing ball.

The EPA had strong justification for its outright war on defeat devices. Studies had shown that “rolling coal” was creating a serious pollution problem. The agency estimated nitrogen dioxide output from emissions-cheating trucks was a full ten times worse than that from Volkswagen’s illegal diesels. Similarly, increased soot emissions were of prime concern, given the respiratory harm done by particulates.

The agency kicked off its war in earnest in 2020, taking down numerous big fish for flouting the Clean Air Act and other related laws. Tuners like Sinister Diesel and Flo-Pro received fines of a million dollars or more, while one tuner got prison time. Meanwhile, eBay moved to ban the sale of defeat devices to avoid the ire of authorities. In the years spent on the matter, the EPA addressed over 539,000 violations, with an eye to achieving deterrence via civil and criminal prosecutions.

It may be that the EPA thinks the war has been won. However, if rolling coal becomes common once again, and tuners begin to openly flout emissions regulations with thick black clouds of diesel smoke, expect the agency to change tack real quick.

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