Oct. 28 – Six engine manufacturers will pay $83.4 million in fines in an agreement reached with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the government’s lawsuit over diesel emissions – the largest civil penalty ever for violation of environmental laws, the EPA announced last week.

The EPA alleged the engine manufacturers programmed 1.3 million electronic engines sold since as early as 1988 to act one way during the agency’s emissions tests and another way during actual operation. The EPA test simulated urban, stop-and-go driving, but the agency said the engines’ fuel-saving mode at highway speeds produced higher levels of toxic emissions, in effect making the computer chips “defeat devices.”

Under the agreement, engine manufacturers will start making engines by January that produce half the levels of NOx than they currently put out. Engine makers also must meet 2004 emissions standards, cutting emissions by 80% compared to current levels, by Oct. 1, 2002 – 15 months sooner than planned.

In addition to the $83.4 million in fines, the engine makers agreed to spend another $109 million on environmental projects. Cummins, Caterpillar, Detroit Diesel, Mack Trucks, Navistar International and Volvo Trucks each signed a separate consent decree. Fines ranged from $2.9 million to $25 million.

It is unclear how the accelerated emissions timetable will affect the trucking industry. Many in the industry are worried that changes to the engines will significantly reduce fuel economy.

Stephanie Williams, head of environmental policy at the California Trucking Assn., was furious.

“EPA should be investigated, not the engine manufacturers,” she said. “You don’t take the engine manufacturers and the government and cut a deal in a back room. If they realized their test doesn’t work, they should go through the rulemaking process” to create a new test.

“A lot of the people who bought those trucks to get a certain mpg will no longer be able to afford them,” she said.

Yet several engine manufacturers issued statements that the settlement would not have a large impact. Mack President and CEO Michel Gigou said, “We don’t expect the new emissions standards to have any significant impact on the fuel consumption and performance we’re able to offer.”

The engine manufacturers insist they did nothing wrong but agreed to work with the EPA toward this settlement to avoid a long, drawn-out legal battle.

Environmental groups are unhappy that the agreement does not require a recall of existing trucks, according to published reports.