Rolling coal: Anti-EPA drivers rig vehicles to spew black fumes

'Rolling coal,' the practice of blowing thick, black plumes of smoke from tailpipes, is gaining traction as a protest against growing environmental regulation. Rolling coal drivers sometimes spend thousands of dollars modifying their vehicle.

Toby Talbot/AP/File
A truck (not rolling coal) spews exhaust in Montpelier, Vt. Some drivers have rigged their vehicles to blow big black plumes of smoke as a protest against environmental regulations.

A pickup truck cruises the highway and suddenly unleashes a plume of thick, black exhaust on a pedestrian or car and, in its way, sends a political message:

The "war on coal" – and environmental regulation generally – has prompted a tailpipe rebellion.

Some drivers are spending hundreds or thousands of dollars to bypass the environmental controls on their vehicles and blow dirty exhaust into the atmosphere. The installations can include large stacks on the back of pickups, according to various reports.

It's called "rolling coal" – or “Prius repellent” (as supporters put it) or “pollution porn” (as opponents label it). The practice isn’t exactly new, but it has gained prominence recently as a backlash against the limits on carbon emissions recently proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Youtube videos depict pickups blasting pedestrians, cyclists, Priuses, even police cars, garnering thousands of Facebook likes and YouTube views.

Despite its outsize presence on social media, “rolling coal” remains fringe. Recent polling suggests a majority of Americans support emissions reductions. Seventy percent say the federal government should require limits to greenhouse gases from existing power plants, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll from early June. Among Republicans there was 63 percent support for limits; 78 percent support among Democrats.

Diesel is a significant source of air pollution, linked to “a cancer risk considered seven times greater than the combined risk of all 181 other air toxics tracked by the EPA,” according to the Clean Air Task Force, a Boston-based antipollution nonprofit.

Rolling coal may also be against the law: “[T]he short answer is this is illegal,” EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia told Talking Points Memo in reference to the practice. Purchia referred to a paragraph on EPA’s air enforcement page that reads: "It is a violation of the [Clean Air Act] to manufacture, sell, or install a part for a motor vehicle that bypasses, defeats, or renders inoperative any emission control device."

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