AIR POLLUTION:

EPA agrees to examine truck emissions claims in Navistar settlement

U.S. EPA has finalized a settlement with truck manufacturer Navistar International Corp., which agreed earlier this week to drop three lawsuits on the condition that EPA examine whether truckers can cheat the emissions control technology used by Navistar's competitors.

In filings with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Navistar claimed EPA had failed to consider that selective catalytic reduction (SCR) might not reduce tailpipe emissions as intended.

According to a recent study funded by Navistar, the equipment used by all other major manufacturers of heavy-duty diesel truck engines can be bypassed by replacing diesel exhaust fluid with ordinary water. Though trucks using SCR technology are designed to shut down when they run out of liquid urea, some trucks in Navistar's study ran up to 13,000 miles without working emissions controls, the company claims.

Navistar dismissed its lawsuits Monday.

Under an agreement that EPA circulated for public comment earlier this year, the agency said it would "reexamine its policies" for trucks running without diesel exhaust fluid, using improper fluid or running defectively, perhaps because of tampering.

EPA and the California Air Resources Board (ARB) also held a workshop in Los Angeles last month to take comment from the industry, as required by the settlement.

The issue has prompted a fierce backlash from truck makers that added SCR to their trucks to comply with the health-based standard for smog-forming nitrogen oxides (NOx), which EPA tightened in January. When the agency revised the nationwide standards, creating a new limit of 100 parts per billion averaged over an hour, truck makers had to scramble to comply, said Joe Suchecki, director of public affairs at the Engine Manufacturers Association.

"Up until now, you could pretty much meet the standards with engine controls and adjustments," Suchecki said. "That all changed with the 2010 standards."

In comments on the settlement, competitors said EPA set a precedent of allowing companies to attack their opponents through the regulatory process. Navistar filed its lawsuits and released its study "for the sole purpose of undermining confidence in SCR technology in order to gain a competitive edge in the marketplace," Mack Trucks Inc. and Volvo Group North America LLC said earlier this month.

Engine manufacturer Daimler Trucks North America LLC stepped up the rhetoric last week, publishing a critical advertisement in Transport Topics, a trade publication. The letter, which was widely circulated within the trucking industry, accused Navistar of confusing customers with "fear-mongering, deception and distraction."

Daimler criticized Navistar's plan to use emissions allowances to offset extra pollution from its engines because they would no longer comply with federal air pollution standards.

"How can this competitor claim it's concerned about the environment while their proposed 2010 product spews two-and-a-half times the 2010 NOx standard into the air we breathe every day?" Daimler's letter said. "They apparently have no EPA-compliant emissions technology for 2010 and beyond, at least nothing that does not use credits to achieve compliance. Without a long-term solution once they run out of emissions credits, they'll probably resort to some other stall tactic. What will it be then?"

Navistar promptly created a website to refute Daimler's letter. The company is developing technology to comply with EPA standards, Navistar said, and Daimler's letter did not dispute the results of the third-party testing on SCR equipment.

"When it comes down to it, this is simply an attempt to divert attention from the facts," Navistar said.

Having settled the lawsuits, EPA and ARB are now expected to review how they certify new trucks.

Environmental groups like the Los Angeles-based Coalition for Clean Air have pushed EPA to ensure that the regulations prevent cheating. They were joined last month by 11 House Democrats from California, which has tried to address perennial smog problems by tightening restrictions on the heavy-duty diesel trucks that carry goods to and from the state's ports.

"This must be fixed," Rep. Laura Richardson and the 10 other lawmakers wrote, urging EPA "to ensure that the 2010 NOx standard is strictly enforced and that all heavy-duty diesel engines comply with the standard on the highway and not just in the test cell, regardless of the technology they use."

Click here to read the settlement.

Click here to read Daimler's letter.

Click here to read the letter from House Democrats.