|At a glance
Various laws are in place to regulate off-road equipment emissions:
Off-road regulations can be difficult to navigate. Typically, compliance dates for federal standards vary by engine horsepower, but on the state level they can vary by fleet size, too. Standards can also depend on the type of engine, usage rates, and more. Here’s a brief overview of the laws fleets should understand about off-road compliance — and how getting ahead of regulations can result in a more efficient, environmentally friendly fleet.
Federal Laws Exist for Manufacturers
Dating back to 1970, heavy-duty highway engines were the first engines to which federal emission standards applied. It wasn’t until 1994 that new nonroad (also known as “off-road”) diesel engine emissions faced specific standards, which were phased in between 1994 and 2000. A 1998, EPA regulation introduced Tier 1 standards for equipment under 50 hp. More rigorous Tier 2 and Tier 3 regulations followed for all equipment and were phased in between 2000 and 2008. Tier 4 standards are set to be completely phased in by next year for engines up to 750 hp, and require a further reduction of about 90% of particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxide (NOx).
Emission standards also apply to large industrial spark-ignition (SI) engines that run on gas, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) or compressed natural gas (CNG) engines rated over 25 hp — equipment such as forklifts and bulldozers.
An important distinction to remember about EPA standards is that these standards apply specifically to manufacturers. It’s the responsibility of the manufacturers to make sure new engines, vehicles, and equipment meet them. “Once manufacturers sell you a product, no further effort is required to complete certification,” said Enesta Jones, EPA spokesperson. “We never require owners to retire their old engines, vehicles, or equipment.”
At the same time, the additional cost manufacturers must spend on added emission controls can be passed on to the fleet, increasing off-road equipment costs. However, the EPA estimates this increase is only 1-3% of the total equipment price for diesel-powered equipment that meets Tier 4 requirements — so for a 175 hp bulldozer that costs $230,000, the additional cost would be $6,900. For SI engines, the estimated costs for manufacturers to design, certify, and build a large SI engine is estimated at $600, but these costs should be offset by reduced fuel consumption, engine maintenance, or both resulting from the technological improvements required to control emissions.
Why do these regulations exist? Ultimately, they’re designed to reduce air pollution and, as a result, protect human health and the environment.
“The human health benefits of this rulemaking include avoiding approximately 1,200 premature deaths, preventing 1,000 hospital admissions, reducing 23,400 cases of asthma attacks, and reducing 20,000 days of lost work,” Jones said. “In monetary terms, we estimate these health benefits to be roughly $8 billion in 2030.”
California Regulations Affect In-Service Units
While the EPA has clear guidelines for off-road equipment, states can enforce their own regulations. California, which often has stricter emissions laws than other states, is one example.
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) put into law the In-Use Off-Road Diesel Vehicle Regulation (commonly referred to as the “Off-Road Regulation”), which applies specifically to public and private fleets, not just manufacturers. “The primary difference between California’s regulations for off-road equipment and those promulgated at the federal level is that California’s regulations address emissions from in-use vehicles and equipment,” said Lisa Williams, air pollution specialist for CARB. “The federal regulations are geared towards engine manufacturer emission standards.”
CARB’s Off-Road Regulation applies to any public or private fleet that owns or operates the following in California:
- Self-propelled diesel-fueled or alternative diesel fueled off-road vehicles 25 hp or greater
- Certain two-engine on-road vehicles that were built with a certified off-road auxiliary engine of at least 50 hp.
“The In-Use Off-Road Diesel Vehicle Regulation was originally adopted in June 2007 and has been amended several times,” Williams said. “The most recent and most dramatic changes became effective in December 2011. Fleets should be aware that those changes delayed the initial compliance dates four years, simplified the emission performance standard requirements, and added a requirement to label both sides of each off-road vehicle [as opposed to just the right side] with an assigned equipment identification number.”
Reviewing Present & Future Requirements
Off-Road Regulation requirements currently in effect include idle time restrictions, reporting of vehicles to CARB using the Diesel Off-Road Online Reporting System (DOORS), labeling equipment with a unique Equipment Identification Number (EIN) assigned by CARB, and more. The Off-Road Regulation also has a tiered schedule in place for engine requirements. Compliance dates vary based on fleet size, with compliance deadlines coming earlier for larger fleets.
Starting on July 1, 2014 for large fleets, and Jan. 1, 2017 and Jan. 1, 2019 for medium and small fleets respectively, fleets in the state must meet additional performance requirements. This can be done in one of two ways: meeting the fleet average targets or complying with Best Available Control Technology (BACT) requirements.
Each year fleets are assessed on their overall emissions rate using the fleet average index. The index is based on the fleet’s average NOx emissions, which are determined by each engine’s horsepower and model year. If the fleet’s average index is at or below the target for the year, no further action is required. Annual targets are also based on each individual fleet’s vehicle make-up, weighted by horsepower.
If a fleet does not meet the established emissions targets, it can choose an alternate path — meeting BACT requirements. This is done by turning over or installing exhaust retrofits referred to as Verified Diesel Emission Control Strategies (VDECS) on a certain percentage of total fleet horsepower, called the BACT rate.
“While the Off-Road Regulation requires fleets to decrease their overall emissions, it allows fleets the flexibility to choose how they go about it,” Williams explained. “Repowering with a cleaner engine is one of the options. Fleets can also choose to retrofit existing engines with VDECS, retire older vehicles and replace with cleaner ones, or designate vehicles as permanently low-use [used less than 200 hours per year].”
Fleets that fall out of compliance with the Off-Road Regulation could face fines and penalties.
Why More Stringent?
Why does California require fleets to follow more stringent laws than does the EPA? Williams says it comes down to health risks. In California, the vehicles subject to the Off-Road Regulation alone are the fourth largest source of diesel PM and the sixth largest source of NOx from all sources. Williams says without the Off-Road Regulation in place, public health could be jeopardized for years to come.
“Although increasingly stringent new engine standards are reducing emissions from off-road diesel vehicles over time, because of their durability, most vehicles operate for several decades before being retired,” she said. “Thus, without the regulation, in-use off-road diesel vehicles would continue to pose significant health risks for many years.”
For California fleets, the best way to stay compliant with the Off-Road Regulation is to report the vehicles into the DOORS. “This will not only fulfill the reporting requirements of the regulation, but will provide the fleet with information on compliance status and upcoming requirements,” Williams said. “We also have toll-free hotlines and online information available for all of our regulations to help provide fleets with compliance assistance.”
OC Waste and Recycling (OCWR) in Orange County, Calif., which operates three active landfills, has combined strategies for staying compliant — retrofitting the fleet with VDECS devices, acquiring a new hybrid dozer, and repowering many of its high-horsepower units such as scrapers and dozers.
“In 2009 we did the calculation and realized if we repowered and made changes in the fleet we’d be able to be in compliance until 2020,” said Warisa Niizawa, senior professional engineer at OCWR. “We have a data collections system that tracks usage and reports changes in the fleet. Data collection and good record-keeping are key for remaining compliant. But it’s most important to stay ahead of the curve. Repowering and calculations take time, so you want to do it well before it’s required.”
By staying ahead of the regulations, OCWR was also able to reduce future compliance costs through the help of the Surplus Off-Road Opt-In for NOx (SOON) program, which provides financial incentives to help fleets buy low-emission heavy-duty engine technologies that reduce NOx emissions from in-use off-road equipment. These dollars are available to fleets that are working to stay ahead of the Off-Road Regulation, rather than those trying to catch up on the requirements.
“When we first learned of the SOON grant program we began analyzing the potential benefits for our landfilling operations. It quickly became clear that the program would help us with the BACT requirements in the future years, particularly in those years where the annual emission targets are more stringent,” said David Tieu, sr. civil engineer, OCWR, who was responsible for initiating the organization’s participation in the SOON program. “In addition to that, we were able to offset future costs for engine upgrades and prolong the service life of the heavy equipment.”
OCWR has nine pieces of equipment in the SOON program, including a newly purchased Caterpillar D7E hybrid electric dozer, the first of its kind in California. The following eight vehicles were all repowered as part of the grant program:
- Two Caterpillar D10 dozers
- One wheel dozer
- Three scrapers
- One compactor
- One Caterpillar D9 dozer
OCWR was able to stagger the repowering of these units and had the work completed by the contractor that handles its maintenance and repairs. “The equipment was only out of service for a matter of weeks, at most a month — so not a very long time to be without it,” Niizawa said. “It takes much more time to go through the specifications and meet the program requirements for SOON.”
The results of the repowering breathed new life into the fleet. “When the equipment comes back from repowering, it’s like having a new vehicle,” said Jose Gamboa, landfill operations superintendent for OCWR. “Performance-wise, it beats paying the sticker price for new equipment and extends the life of the machine. It’s like giving them a drink in the fountain of youth.”
According to the CARB calculator, the fleet has achieved a 63% reduction in NOx emissions as a result of repowering. Now, not only is the fleet ahead of the Off-Road Regulation, it’s also supporting its mission to be good environmental stewards. “The landfill business has always had a ‘bad guy’ reputation, but our focus is to serve our community and protect the environment,” Niizawa said. “That’s why we leapt at the opportunity to apply for the SOON grant.”
Emission Reduction Strategy
Reducing emissions is a smart move for any fleet, regardless of regulations. Proven emission reduction strategies include:
- Replacing outdated engine components
- Installing certified and verified emission reduction technologies
- Regularly maintaining engines
- Replacing older engines with newer ones
- Replacing older equipment with newer equipment
- Reducing engine idle times
- Installing retrofit devices