Impending disaster makes a much more exciting story than long-range planning. Admit it — you might turn on the Weather Channel to watch tornado chasers, but the PBS panel discussion on global warming trends just isn't all that tempting.
Last year's coverage of the so-called '02 low-emissions diesels certainly didn't shy away from the more sensational claims of inescapable doom for truck owners. Earlier stories about the technology needed to reach EPA's accelerated emissions requirements didn't generate much interest, but once the October deadline got close, any speculation on that technology's shortcomings found a ready outlet in the industry press and other public forums.
Now that we're half a year past the switch, it's clear that much of the speculation was overblown, and the reality is far less exciting from a news standpoint.
With one potential disaster behind us, attention is turning to the next round of emissions regulations in 2007. Without a doubt, this next drop requires a truly significant technical leap, one that makes '02 look like a baby step. But before we succumb to the disaster-story syndrome that caused so much distress and created such turmoil last year, let's take a reasoned, if somewhat dull, look at the situation.
First, there's time to develop, test and perfect the necessary technical tools. The real problem with '02 was a court order that shortened the implementation timeframe by almost two years. Put simply, engine makers had to scramble to meet the new deadline, which meant scuttling standard development timetables and practices.
In comparison, the general emissions goals for '07 were announced years ago, and engineers have been quietly working on the basic underlying research needed.
If EPA offers some definitive guidance by the end of the year on what it considers acceptable technology, there's adequate time for development, prototyping, field-testing and a smooth transition. Also, 2007 is actually the start date for a three-year phase-in of the full emissions reduction envisioned by EPA, allowing for fine-tuning as we move in stages to the most stringent requirements.
Second, we're not alone this time. While European and U.S. emissions rules have followed different paths up to this point, Europe's next stage, known as Euro 5, is almost identical to our 2007-10 requirements.
That means you have the world's two largest markets for heavy-duty vehicles moving in tandem to reduce diesel emissions, which nearly doubles the scientific manpower focused on developing cleaner engines, while also making it easier to rationalize the huge investment needed to pull off that development.
In the coming months, you're bound to hear disaster scenarios for '07, many pointing to the uneasy transition last year. Such an approach has become the standard method for attracting attention in our media-saturated culture. However, some issues are far too complex for the immediate answers required to fend off disasters, and meeting the 2007 emissions requirements certainly qualifies as one of those. In this case, long-range planning is the really exciting story, and all the rest is distracting noise.