- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 2, 2000

Emissions control laws are supposed to protect the air we breathe but that assumes the Environmental Protection Agency knows what it's doing. Very often, it does not. And when it does not, it blows smoke the political kind.

According to a just-released report issued by the Commerce Committee and Republican Rep. Thomas J. Bliley, EPA has been scrambling to cover-up its flawed diesel emissions testing protocol since 1991. "Asleep at the Wheel: The Environmental Protection Agency's Failure to Enforce Pollution Standards for Heavy-Duty Diesel Trucks" alleges that EPA did nothing to address concerns that diesel engine manufacturers had figured out a way to cheat the emissions tests used by EPA to limit public exposure to the particulate (soot) emissions created by diesel engines. The computer-controlled engine management systems of today enabled the engines to pass the tests even though they were actually much "dirtier" than allowed by law, the report says. Mr. Bliley claims 1.3 million heavy-duty rigs went out equipped with electronic "defeat devices" that made possible an end-run around EPA's Inspector Clouseaus. Worse, the report accuses the EPA of having been warned, repeatedly, by credible outside experts, that the tests were outdated and being circumvented. "EPA did nothing even when EPA was told by its European counterparts that EPA's tests were being gamed by these companies," Mr. Bliley said. This resulted in the public being exposed to "elevated levels" of lung-irritating pollutants a serious problem for asthmatics and those with bronchitis.

EPA denies the charges made by Mr. Bliley and the Commerce Committee report. "This administration has done more to clean up diesel pollution than any other administration," said EPA's Sylvia Lowrance. Maybe so. But it's worth noting that among recent EPA actions designed to toughen-up enforcement of particulate emissions standards are "rules (designed) to make it much more difficult to cheat." That would seem to indicate some cheating had, indeed, been going on in the past. If not, why would the standards need to be made "more difficult" to "cheat"?

Is this yet another instance of smoke and mirrors by an administration more concerned with appearances than substance? Mr. Bliley sure seems to think so and there is credible evidence in the report (available on the Internet at www.house.gov/commerce/ asleepatthewheel.html) that EPA is, in fact, working overtime to cover-up its ineptitude with the bluff and bluster so characteristic of the Clinton administration: deny, deflect and obfuscate. The nation's asthma sufferers who are among those especially sensitive to diesel particulate emissions might keep in mind who has been blowing smoke come election time.

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