Utah lawmakers push for tougher penalties against trucks 'rolling coal'

Saturday , February 10, 2018 - 6:57 PM2 comments

A bill working its way through the Utah Legislature would bring stiffer fines and bolster enforcement for diesel vehicles intentionally modified to blow smoke.

The House Transportation Committee passed House Bill 171 in a 6-1 vote Friday. It would raise penalties for smoking diesels from $50 to $100 for the first violation and from $100 to $500 for the second. 

The bill would also require police and highway patrol to report those vehicles to local health departments.

“This bill represents a necessary change in emissions testing for Utah,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, in a news release Friday. “It helps to reduce the dangerous threat that air particulates from diesel emissions pose to our health.”

The legislation applies to the four Wasatch Front counties and Cache County that have non-attainment status for air quality.

Lawmakers already passed a bill in 2015 that gives local health departments the authority to revoke registrations if they catch trucks that have been intentionally modified to “roll coal” and billow black emissions into the airshed. Tampering with a vehicle’s emissions control is a violation of the federal Clean Air Act.

New weapon against smoking vehicles in Utah

Members of the public and law enforcement officials can report these vehicles to local health departments, who work with owners to bring the trucks back into compliance. 

A year later, an analysis by the Standard-Examiner found the Utah Highway Patrol had not passed a single smoking vehicle citation along to the health departments. Involving the health department is key, however, in deterring the rolling coal movement. That’s because they’re tasked with running vehicle inspection and maintenance programs.

Utah bill meant to catch smoking vehicles so far blowing smoke

“We want to work with the vehicle owner — we want to see what’s wrong with the vehicle so we can actually help them get the vehicle back on road so it’s not polluting and it’s operating properly,” Dennis Keith, director of environmental health for the Davis County Health Department, said during the committee hearing. 

The goal, Keith added, is to help bring smoking trucks into compliance so the owner’s registration doesn’t get revoked.

Some lawmakers questioned whether new diesel vehicles should be exempt from the bill’s reach. Keith stressed that any vehicle can be altered to blow smoke, regardless of its age.

“They can all be tampered with. They can all get programs put on. They can all be chipped. A newer vehicle is just as likely to pollute intentionally as an older vehicle,” he said.

Nearly 1 in 5 Weber County diesel vehicles failing emissions tests

Some diesel defeat devices and programs are so sophisticated it’s hard for regulators to find them. Keith pointed to the recent Volkswagen emissions scandal as an example.

Getting law enforcement to report cases of rolling coal back to the health departments streamline the process and make sure out-of-compliance vehicles are on their radar.

“I actually think some of those vehicles owners aren’t aware it’s illegal,” he said. “We can talk to them and say, ‘Hey, you’ve put a program on your vehicle. Are you aware that’s not allowed by law?’”

HEAL Utah, the Utah Division of Air Quality and the Utah Association of Local Health Departments expressed support of the bill. It now moves to the House floor.

Contact Reporter Leia Larsen at 801-625-4289 or llarsen@standard.net. Follow her on Facebook.com/LeiaInTheField or on Twitter @LeiaLarsen

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