California May Try Voluntary Fix for Dirty Diesel Engines

Comedy? Tragedy? You decide. The story begins in 1998, when California regulators discovered that manufacturers of diesel engines for trucks, buses, and motor homes had been, in effect, cheating to get around clean-air rules, putting computer chips in their engines that made them behave differently when they were tested for emissions than during actual driving. The result was some 1.3 million extra tons of smog-forming gases released nationally. The companies were fined $1 billion, and a deal was struck with state and federal regulators stipulating that manufacturers remove the chips when engines were brought in to be rebuilt. Last year, regulators discovered that few engines were being rebuilt and less than 10 percent of the chips had been replaced; they proposed a rule requiring that engine owners get the chip software upgraded. Manufacturers threatened to sue. Regulators responded by making the program voluntary. Asked why industry would voluntarily spend money to clean up its act, California Air Resources Board spokesperson Jerry Martin admitted, “That is a legitimate question.”