Rolling coal

A truck emits black exhaust as it drives past a recent protest on Main Street in Logan.

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Though many of the vehicles that passed the June 6 Black Lives Matter protest outside the Historic Cache County Courthouse just honked or waved, others responded by “rolling coal” on the protestors.

The experience is “almost cliche now,” according to Mike Taylor.

“I’ve been to many different gatherings at the courthouse over the last 10 years,” Taylor said, “and it seems like at every gathering, there’s people rolling coal, even though people are peacefully protesting.”

So he decided to film the diesels that slowed down in front of the protestors only to accelerate, dumping black smoke directed at the crowd. In two hours, he had footage of 11 trucks — roughly one every 10 minutes.

“It’s offensive, people thinking they can blow smoke at you,” Taylor said. “And there were families there, with children, babies.”

And it’s also illegal.

“It frustrates me every time I see someone blowing smoke like that,” said Terry Thain, who owns the Moonlight Diesel mechanic shop in Logan. “It’s a bad image to the whole industry, and I would say 90% are just young kids who got their first diesel truck and want to go fast, or whatever.”

Thain said initially, the trend came about as a way to show off a truck’s transmission power during truck-pulls and other events, but with changing regulations on emissions and better-performing vehicles, the process is outdated.

“It's not for performance, even,” he said. “Yeah, you get power, but you get the ‘coal’ when there’s too much fuel. It’s inefficient for the engine. You can add fuel and add air to get power, but it’s good for the environment and the fuel economy. You don’t get the smoke.”

But smoke is the point of rolling coal. It's still a way to show off, but now it's also a way to display road rage or to protest against perceived “green movements,” such as driving a hybrid or electric vehicle, walking or riding a bike, and liberal protests, such as the Black Lives Matter Protest, or a science march Taylor participated in a few years ago.

While diesels made before 1998 are exempt from emissions testing, a smoking vehicle still violates the Clean Air Act passed in 2017, therefore making rolling coal illegal in Cache County, as well as the rest of the state. And for newer models, a smoking vehicle usually means tampering with emissions controls, which is also illegal.

Thain said sometimes with older vehicles a puff of smoke can be seen before the turbo kicks in to add airflow if someone "stabs the throttle." But usually with newer models, rolling coal is achieved with a tuner or injector that bypasses the vehicle’s emissions computer chip to change the air-to-fuel ratio, resulting in the black mass of unburnt diesel fuel spewing out of the exhaust.

In fact, in March, the Discovery Channel show “Diesel Brothers” — and the brothers’ Utah-based company DieselSellerz — was fined more than $850,000 by a Utah judge after facing a lawsuit from the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment for selling non-emissions-compliant vehicles and tuners. When tested, one of the trucks sold by the company produced 36 times the certified level of emissions.

Though the typical particulate measure in air quality issues in the valley is PM2.5, Bear River Health Department’s Andrew Stokes said the particles from “rolling coal” are “even more dangerous than PM2.5 because they’re finer.”

“When you see the black smoke, it’s particulate matter,” he said. “And it’s not just a chemical that’s going to dissolve into the atmosphere; people can inhale it and it can cause lung issues, breathing issues, especially in people with asthma or who are more sensitive.”

Stokes said between the state’s smoking vehicle hotline and a reporting option on the local health department’s website, he sees between 5-10 complaints a month. But without footage of the incidents, it’s hard to do more than send a warning to the owners — many of which are ignored.

Of the 24 smoking-vehicle complaints BRHD has gotten in 2020, seven came from Taylor’s footage at the protests. In addition, Logan City Police Department gave out two “fix-it” tickets and one warning to smoking diesels at the protest.

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