Longer arms

Sometimes this industry just drives me nuts, an associate confided the other day. Only sometimes? I think we're getting myopic in our industry's old age, he continued, ignoring the jab. I really do. We have some huge issues to deal with but we can't seem to bring the solutions into focus. We need longer arms, so we can hold our problems farther away and see more of the answer menu. He had a point.

Sometimes this industry just drives me nuts,” an associate confided the other day. Only sometimes? “I think we're getting myopic in our industry's old age,” he continued, ignoring the jab. “I really do. We have some huge issues to deal with but we can't seem to bring the solutions into focus. We need longer arms, so we can hold our problems farther away and see more of the answer menu.”

He had a point. What would the answer menu look like for the 2002 engine problem, for instance, if we were to study it from a greater distance?

For starters, ever since the EPA began regulating emissions from diesel engines more than a decade ago, we have tended to look at the problem from the tailpipe perspective. From this through-the-pipe view, only one solution has been visible — clean up each engine's exhaust by any means possible, so that whenever that individual engine is running, less pollution comes puffing out into the environment.

This take on the problem has served society well to date and been reasonably manageable for the trucking industry, as well. But now what? What happens when, no matter how hard we look, the solution just isn't there? Perhaps it's time for a much longer, broader look outside our current field of vision — time to scan the perimeter, survey the outlying territories, hold the problem at a long arm's length and consider it with fresh eyes.

Just back away from that tailpipe a few feet and what is the first thing you see? The rest of the truck, that's what — sort of like the blind man letting go of the elephant's tail. With the whole truck suddenly in view, a new question begs to be asked: Why look at only the emissions of new engines instead of new vehicles? Why not permit (or even encourage) truck makers to offer exhaust aftertreatment solutions or auxiliary power systems, for example, as a part of a total emissions reduction commitment?

Why even focus exclusively on vehicle certification at the time of manufacture instead of vehicles in operation, for that matter? If we look at fleet emissions as a whole, still other engine emission reduction options and opportunities come into view. For instance, carriers might be able to do emissions averaging across their entire fleet — averaging older trucks and newer vehicles together, or trucks powered with alternative fuels like LNG with diesel-powered vehicles.

As an industry, we might be able to implement a “pollution credits system” like some areas do now for stationary sources of pollution. A credits system could allow fleets to sell or trade their “clean fleet credits” with other carriers that, because of the nature of their operation, their location or the age of their vehicles, exceed current emission limits.

A whole-fleet approach to emission reduction could also actually reward fleets that choose to implement auxiliary power systems to reduce emissions from their trucks by reducing or eliminating extended idling. After all, a truck that goes from running a 550-hp. engine 18 hours a day — 10 hours over the road and 8 hours at idle — to only 10 hours of highway operation a day, very dramatically reduces its daily engine exhaust emissions without making any changes at all to the engine itself.

Taking a broader look at the problem of reducing emissions from commercial vehicles does not let trucking off the hook. It does not relieve us of our duty to comply with regulations or exempt us from our larger responsibilities as citizens to do our part to safeguard the environment we share. What it may do, however, is open the door to a much wider range of solutions and, perhaps, even to a much greater level of success.

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