Running Green: Metro-Chicago Emissions Regulations Burden Diesel Users

Jan. 19, 2011

If you were listening closely, you may have heard a collective sigh of relief coming from the west, as owners of diesel-powered equipment in California learned that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) had agreed on changes to the state’s controversial In-Use Off-Road Diesel Vehicle Regulation.

If you were listening closely, you may have heard a collective sigh of relief coming from the west, as owners of diesel-powered equipment in California learned that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) had agreed on changes to the state’s controversial In-Use Off-Road Diesel Vehicle Regulation.

The changes will delay enforcement of the regulation’s major provisions until 2014 and give diesel-using contractors more flexible options for compliance. But if you’re an equipment owner working in nonattainment
areas elsewhere in the country (where air pollution levels consistently exceed National Air Quality Standards), don’t start breathing easier just yet. So far, California’s action seems not to be softening the hearts of diesel-emissions regulators in others states and local jurisdictions.

In Illinois, for example, Cook County (which encompasses a large portion of the Chicago-metro area) will begin enforcing a major phase of its new in-use-diesel regulations in May 2011. Also, the city of Chicago has its own proposed regulations formulated and ready for enforcement, and the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority (ISTHA) reportedly is developing its own plan. These regulations are in addition to those of the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), which took effect June
2010, and those of the O’Hare Modernization Program (OMP), which have been on the books since 2003.

Except for the O’Hare Modernization Program—a $6 billion project to improve efficiency at Chicago’s largest airport—the path to this multi-agency regulation of in-use diesels was paved in April 2009, when Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed Executive Order 11 to “Reduce
the Environmental Impact of Illinois State Government Operations.”

Buried in the Order is a paragraph directing that contracts for state-funded road construction in nonattainment areas specify “clean construction practices,” including idling limitations, use of ultra-low-sulfur fuel and, for all off-road vehicles, the installation of a “verified diesel-emission control device that achieves a particulate
matter emission reduction of 50 percent or more from uncontrolled engine emission levels.”

While the ink was still drying on the governor’s signature, IDOT, Cook County and the city of Chicago apparently considered this paragraph marching orders, because all began developing specific rules for diesels
working in their jurisdictions.

Inconsistency—the basic complaint
As Illinois contractors and equipment dealers study the details of these various plans, which primarily impact the Chicago-metro area, they’re finding that the lack of uniformity from agency to agency complicates compliance.

“The inconsistency among agencies is part of the problem in the Chicago area,” says Steve Deller, product support manager for West Side Tractor Sales, a John Deere dealer in Naperville, a western suburb. “If you set your target on a project for a specific agency, you may not be in compliance if you take on a project for a different agency.”

Lisa Barber, territory manager for DCL International, a manufacturer of exhaust-aftertreatment products, agrees: “The different requirements in Illinois have made it quite confusing for contractors, and it’s absolutely crucial that emissions-control providers ask the right questions. The last thing you want is to sell a product that will work on one jobsite, but not another.”

Dave Gorski, shop administrator for K-Five Construction, a heavy-highway paving contractor based in suburban Lemont, asks the question on everyone’s mind: “Why can’t we have just one regulation? IDOT has a good plan—why couldn’t the others follow suit?”

IDOT’s approach
Like Gorski, those who have the job of interpreting the various regulations and complying with them—or the job of advising others about how best to comply—generally agree that IDOT has the most straight-forward plan.

According to Mike Renner, construction operations engineer for the state, the regulation resulted from a year-long effort by the IDOT/Industry Policy Committee. Speaking a few months after the June 2010 implementation of the plan’s initial phase, Rennner said that IDOT had received no negative feedback.

“I’d like to believe,” he said, “that this is due to the efforts by all the concerned parties prior to the implementation of the specification.”
The IDOT regulation applies only to off-road equipment (not trucks) used on state-funded road projects of any contract volume, and applies only to projects in nonattainment areas. The regulation is phased in over a three-year period according to horsepower, requiring finally that equipment with 50 horsepower or more comply.

The regulation essentially requires that pre-Tier-2 engines be fitted either with a U.S. EPA-verified aftertreatment device capable of reducing particulate matter (PM) by 50 percent or more, or a CARB-verified Level-2 device, which has the same PM-reducing capability. “Verified” devices have been evaluated by EPA or CARB criteria and determined to meet required standards.

If, however, an appropriate EPA- or CARB-verified device is not available, then the state accepts verification by the manufacturer of the aftertreatment device. In so doing, the IDOT regulation tacitly acknowledges that Level-2 devices on the EPA or CARB verified lists are scarce, and that the few that are available typically have a narrow range of application.

“CARB and the EPA have little interest in verifying Level-2 devices today,” says Joe Mastanduno, product marketing manager, engine/drive-train, for John Deere, “because the focus now is on Level-3 [devices reducing PM by 85 percent or more]. People writing the rules are sometimes not in touch with what’s available, and there can be a disconnect between the regulations and the technology.”

Contractors who must retrofit machines to meet the IDOT regulation likely will do so with a “flow-through” (or “partial”) filter, which uses a mesh-type media to temporarily trap PM on catalyzed surfaces that promote oxidation (burning) of PM in hot exhaust gases.

“The catalyst,” says DCL’s Barber, “aids in reducing the temperature required for regeneration [burning off the PM], while also reducing carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons in high percentages.”

O’Hare Modernization Program (OMP)
For contractors working at O’Hare Airport, the OMP regulation, like that of IDOT, applies only to pre-Tier-2 engines in off-road equipment. The regulation requires only that these engines be fitted with “emissions control devices that will reduce emissions prior to utilization of
said equipment on the project,” and that these devices “consist of diesel oxidation catalysts, diesel particulate filters or similar retrofit-equipment control technology.”

The devices must be EPA- or CARB-verified, or “represented by the manufacturer in writing to provide emission reductions of 20% PM, 20% CO and 40% HC when used with ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel.” It’s probably safe to say that most contractors who retrofit machines to work at O’Hare do so by installing a diesel oxidation catalyst (DOC), which, when used alone, essentially burns off the soluble organic fraction (unburned fuel and oil) that clings to soot particles.

“The DOC is typically a Level-1 device [capable of reducing PM by 25 percent or more],” says Barber, “and works well to reduce higher percentages of PM from older engines having a more wet-compound part of the PM. On newer, drier engines, the DOC would not necessarily
provide the same level of reduction.”

The cost of a DOC in the form of a replacement muffler for an example 250-horsepower machine would be around $3,300. Although the OMP regulation touches on the use of PM filters, it stops short of requiring the
use of a Level-2 partial filter, which would roughly double the cost of the aftertreatment retrofit. Speculation is, though, that the OMP regulation is due for revision.

Cook County more stringent
Beginning in May 2011, the Cook County Green Construction Ordinance requires that all off-road equipment, with 50 or more horsepower and working on projects valued at $2 million or more, be fitted with a verified Level-2 device. Then, by January 2014, prime contractors must have installed verified Level-3 controls on all 50-plus-horsepower off-road equipment, as well as on all trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 8,500 pounds or more. The same applies to subcontractors in January 2016.

Concerning the 2011 deadline for Level-2 controls on off-road equipment, the ordinance makes no provision for manufacturer verification if a verified device is not available, a situation that could confuse contractors searching for these basically non-existent devices. Barber has spoken to the Cook County Department of Environmental Control and was told that a non-verified device would be permitted if a verified device did not exist. The department, however, would have to give permission in each instance.

The ordinance does allow the use of a Level-1 device if “the Department makes a written finding that such vehicle cannot be retrofit with Level-2 controls.” Apparently, this determination to permit a Level-1 device is
made on a case-by-case basis, but the ordinance does not state specifically by whom and by what criteria.

Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of the ordinance is what it doesn’t say:
“The unique thing about this specification,” says Deller, “is that there are no Tier levels stated. It doesn’t say, for example, that if you’re Tier-2 or Tier-3 you’re okay; it says only that you must install a Level-2 device,
which I assume means that even Tier-3 machines have to be retrofitted with an exhaust-aftertreatment device.”

Since the ordinance defines Level-2 devices as those providing a 50-percent reduction in PM from “uncontrolled engine emission levels,” some have interpreted that phrase as referring to engines built prior to
EPA regulation. Based on Barber’s conversations with Cook County, however, “uncontrolled engine emission levels” refers to any engine not fitted with aftertreatment, and Tier-3 engines would, indeed, need retrofitting. (Construction Equipment’s questions to Cook County about the exact meaning of the definition went unanswered.)

Cook County’s 2014 regulation, calling for a verified Level-3 device, would require retrofitting a wallflow diesel-particulate filter (DPF), which, compared with the partial filter, reduces particulates in higher percentages due to construction of the filter media. The DPF uses high exhaust-gas temperatures to regenerate the filter (by oxidizing the trapped soot)—a process that can be “passive” or “active.”

If normal exhaust temperatures are high enough, often enough, the oxidation process can occur without outside intervention (passive regeneration); if not, a supplemental source of heat is required (active regeneration)— either a DOC that serves as a flameless heater when a small amount of diesel fuel is injected into the exhaust stream, or an auxiliary diesel-fired burner.

Technically, the prime contractor who installed a Level-2 device to meet the 2011 requirement for off- road equipment would be obligated to remove it and install a Level-3 device by January 2014 (or January 2015 if the Level-2 device was installed prior to May 2011). But again, the ordinance does allow the use of Level-2 or Level-1 devices if the County determines, on a case-by-case basis, that a Level-3 device is not feasible.

This part of the regulation is not clear, says Barber, in the sense that it does not specifically point out whether Level-3 controls are passive or active. At this point, she says, the presumption is that the ordinance means passive systems, since it provides the option of Level-2.

“It may be that Cook County’s regulation is patterned after Local Law 77 in New York City,” says Barber, “which requires ‘best available control technology,’ which today is a DPF. Cook County’s requirement is actually more forgiving, though, because it will allow Level-2 or Level-1 in some situations. It seems that they’re not forcing contractors to install, say, an active DPF system on something like a skid-steer.”

Equipment owners faced with the May 2011 requirement must decide whether to install a Level-2 device on a particular machine (at an estimated cost of $5,000 to $7,000), or to bite the bullet and install a Level-3 device from the start, at an average estimated cost of $13,000— or more if a DOC is, indeed, required for regeneration.

“It doesn’t make much sense to install a Level-2 device if you plan to keep the machine in the fleet,” says Gorski. “You might as well jump to Level-3, because they call for that in 2014.”

Cook County’s 2014 regulation seemingly will require Level-3 devices on essentially all trucks running without aftertreatment, although Level-2 and Level-1 devices are permissible if the County so determines. The same questions surrounding the installation of these devices on off-road equipment also apply to their installation on trucks.

City of Chicago
In summary, the city of Chicago’s proposed Clean Contracting Ordinance, which applies to contracts for city-funded projects of $2 million or more, has two major requirements beginning 2012: First, it prohibits pre-1998 trucks and pre-Tier-1 off-road equipment unless fitted with an exhaust-aftertreatment device.

Second—and at the heart of the regulation—is the requirement that prime contractors begin assigning a numerical value to each piece of non-road equipment (50 or more horsepower) and to each truck (GVWR of 8,500 pounds or more) that will be on the site for more than 15
percent of the invoice period. These values, ranging from 0 to 5, are indicators of emissions cleanliness and, when averaged, yield a Clean Fleet Score, which is set at 2.1 beginning January 2012; 3.0 in 2014; and 4.0 in 2016.

For example, non-road equipment gets a rating of: 0 if it’s Tier-1 without exhaust aftertreatment; 1 if it’s fitted with a Level-1 device; 2 if it’s Tier-2 without retrofit; 2.25 if it’s Tier-3 without retrofit; 3 if it has a Level-2 retrofit; 4 if it’s Tier-4 without retrofit or has a Level-3
retrofit; 5 if fitted with a Level-3+ device (which also controls emissions of nitrogen oxide). We’ve ignored some of the rating system’s details, as well as similar rules for trucks, but you get the idea.

The ordinance requires no specific emissions-reducing technology, saying only that “all or some” of the trucks and off-highway equipment on the project must use “engine or retrofit technology” that allows meeting the score. Successful bidders must submit an initial plan
to “detail the strategy” for compliance, then must recalculate the score with each invoice. If low, the difference between the required and actual scores is multiplied by $500, then by working days in the invoice period to calculate the contractor’s fine.

No easy choices
Given the fundamental differences among the various agencies’ regulations, compliance is challenging. “We see it as our responsibility to advise our customers about the economics of various options when
complying with these regulations,” says Rich Hoffmeyer, product support manager for McCann Industries, a Case dealer with locations in the Chicago area.

“Customers have to think through the economics, based on how long the machine will remain in the fleet and where it will be working.” According to Luke Mueller, service manager/emissions consultant for Patten Tractor, a Caterpillar dealer with locations in northern Illinois and Indiana, more than 60 percent of the dealership’s customers will be affected by the regulations from Illinois agencies. Each customer, says Mueller, has a different set of circumstances that require careful review.

“My card says I’m an emissions consultant,” says Mueller, “which means, at best, that all I can do is help the customer figure out what makes sense in his operation— to manage his fleet to be most productive. It’s a serious discussion, because we don’t want the customer
buying something that’s not going to be vital to his operation in three or four years.”

As a starting point, says Mueller, Patten works with customers to develop equipment lists detailing information likely to be required by a regulating agency. Cook County, for example, requires each piece of equipment’s engine model year, Tier level, ECM calibration, horsepower, serial number and fuel consumption—plus each retrofit device’s type, serial number and EPA or CARB verification number.

(To help contractors make such lists, download EPA’s “Construction Fleet Inventory Guide,” from its National Clean Diesel Campaign site. Having such a list, says Mueller, is the only way to determine the best overall strategy for bringing fleets into compliance. He illustrates by citing how such an analysis of a large fleet owned by Plote Construction, based in northern Illinois, helped the firm decide to rebuild three mid-
1990s wheel loaders, complete with emissions-compliant engines, the cost of which was partially defrayed by grant money Patten helped secure.

“Creating and maintaining this database is taxing for the fleet owner,” says Mueller. “It’s a big job tracking down information just for heavy equipment—then you have to consider gen-sets, light plants, welding
equipment and the like—it all has to be accounted for.”

K-Five’s Gorski agrees, and has been compiling equipment-list spreadsheets over the past couple of years. “Our project managers will need this information, because they have to submit it as a requirement for starting work. Contractors have to inventory their fleets, look
at where they’re doing work, the extent of the work, and how long a particular piece will be on the site. We have no choice about what’s been dealt to us, so we have to consider all the options when complying.”