Yes, “rolling coal” is illegal.
Rolling coal is a form of conspicuous air pollution by anti-environmentalists: “a very public way for conservative drivers to simultaneously broadcast that they aren’t worried about whether humans are the cause of global warming and to openly mock the people who are.” Targets of coal rolling often include owners of hybrid vehicles (hence the nickname “Prius duster”) as well as foreign vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians. In addition to environmentalism concerns, it’s been noted that this phenomenon also has health risks associated with it, particularly respiratory issues, as well as safety, as the black coal can make visibility difficult.
Rolling coal is not a new phenomenon. The trend stems from truck-pull competitions popular at county fairs and rural speedways, in which two diesel trucks face off to see which one can carry a weighted sled the farthest. To increase power and speed, truck-pull drivers modify their vehicles to dump excess fuel into the motor, which has the added effect of making the trucks emit clouds of soot. It’s an impressive effect—a sort of visible manifestation of the vehicle’s power and speed. Unsurprisingly, other pickup enthusiasts (mostly teenage boys) have tried to recreate the show, coughing up anywhere between $500 and $5,000 to make their car smoke.
The Environmental Protection Agency confirmed that the behavior is illegal and runs afoul of the Clean Air Act. According to the “tampering” section of the EPA’s “Air Enforcement” website,
“The CAA [Clean Air Act] prohibits anyone from tampering with an emission control device on a motor vehicle by removing it or making it inoperable prior to or after the sale or delivery to the buyer. A vehicle’s emission control system is designed to limit emissions of harmful pollutants from vehicles or engines.”
In fact, one company that manufactured devices that allowed people to remove emission control devices from their trucks agreed to pay a $500,000 civil penalty to the EPA in January 2013. “The diesel industry has spent the last decade investing billions of dollars in developing new technology to reduce emissions, so as you might expect, the practice is somewhat disturbing, and it’s certainly not mainstream,” said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, a nonprofit industry group. Rolling coal, he added, has been around for a long time among truck enthusiasts, mostly without incident.
Truck enthusiasts may also face state charges including, assault, reckless operation or equipment violations. Here is how the fine art of “rolling coal” is being practiced by some of our best and brightest.