- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 28, 2002

While "clean air" is something we all naturally want, some cost-benefit analysis must come into play. It's too easy to demagogue the issue when what's being discussed may result in an inconsequential reduction in pollution, but one which will come at great economic cost. That's the crux of the debate over pending new emissions-control requirements for the diesel engines used in heavy commercial trucks. The air may get a little cleaner, but it's not going to be cheap. And, as the economy struggles to regain its equilibrium, it's reasonable to ask whether imposing huge new costs on the trucking industry an integral component of the U.S. economy makes sense at this particular juncture.
House Republicans have decided to seek a temporary stay of execution: The current October deadline for the new, lower-emissions diesel engines is just a little more than two months away. According to the American Trucking Association (ATA), the modifications to diesel engines necessary to achieve compliance with the new standards will cost between $11,000 and $15,000 per engine, in addition to $3,620-$7,130 more for fuel over the life of the engine.
Regardless of the air-quality benefit (the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claims that emissions of oxides of nitrogen would be cut by about 1.2 million tons per year), these costs are not inconsiderable and would inevitably be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices for everything that is shipped by truck. Groceries, clothes, you name it: They'll all become more expensive. Perhaps a lot more expensive no one can really say.
Meanwhile, American trucking companies are under no obligation to buy the ostensibly cleaner-burning diesel engines. They may elect to rebuild the older, dirtier engines when they reach the end of their useful lives potentially negating a great portion of the benefits that the EPA claims would be derived from the newer engines. "No matter what happens, EPA is not going to get its expected emissions reduction, because no one's going to buy the new engines," said James Whittinghill of the ATA.
It would be wiser to look before we leap on this one, which is just what Republicans such as Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and others are counseling. They seek to postpone the effective date of the new requirements. While clean air is certainly important, imposing these heavy costs on an already fragile economy hardly seems the responsible course.

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