Colorado to continue ‘rolling coal’

Author: John Tomasic - March 9, 2017 - Updated: March 9, 2017

Rolling coal. (AP)
Rolling coal. (AP)

You couldn’t call anyone who spoke at the Senate State Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday a fan of “rolling coal,” including the majority Republican senators who all voted against a bill that would have made the practice illegal in Colorado.

Rolling coal has made news across the country for years. It involves modifying a diesel truck engine using performance computer chips to send clouds of black soot from its exhaust pipe or pipes, preferably into the breathing space of pedestrians, bicyclists, Prius drivers, members of the state’s outdoor cafe society — which is to say, the kind of people who would most take offense.

State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican from Sterling, led opposition to “nuisance exhaust” House Bill 1102.

Sonnenberg, a farmer, argued that the bill could be used to target agricultural workers who drive diesel pickup trucks but who aren’t intentionally polluting or seeking to offend or intimidate anyone. He said he feared the bill could turn into “the tip of the spear” that would bring California-style stricter vehicle emissions rules to the state.

“I have two pickups and I have the chips installed, not to blow smoke, but to get better gas mileage,” he said. “I don’t like the idea of people doing that smokin’, using it for that purpose, but I can’t even drive my pickups in California.”

Republican Sens. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, and Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, were sympathetic. Marble said she didn’t think a law banning the practice could be enforced.

There were no witnesses at the hearing who spoke in favor of rolling coal.

There were plenty of witnesses who spoke against it. They called it “tormenting,” “dangerous,” “intentionally obnoxious.” An elderly man said coal rollers nearly sent him off a curb headfirst onto the street. A young man recalled the time a bike ride in the crisp morning air outside Fort Collins descended suddenly into a nightmare of acrid fumes, darkness, and engine-revving scorn.

Bill sponsor Don Coram, a Durango Republican, said he thought the problem would only grow more serious and that it might eventually come to most harm the rural Coloradans Sonnenberg championed in opposing the bill. Coram suggested that, if nothing else, rolling coal would taint rural Coloradans by association.

“I looked at this issue in the past and thought, Boys will be boys,” Coram said . “I thought it was a fad that would go away. It hasn’t gone away.”

John Tomasic

John Tomasic

John Tomasic is a senior political reporter for The Colorado Statesman covering the Colorado Legislature.


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