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Analyzing the End of the Tier Mandate

Looking back, you have to wonder if the governmental obsession over emissions was worth it.

Mon July 28, 2014 - National Edition
Giles Lambertson

The Tier IV trauma ends this year for the industry’s original equipment manufacturers after 17 years of preoccupation with creating new engine systems. They built the off-road diesel engines mandated by the EPA, and equipment fleet managers bought the equipment for the simple reason they had no other choice.

Looking back, you have to wonder if the governmental obsession was worth it. The gut reaction is, of course it was. Tailpipe emissions from heavy equipment are notably cleaner and more healthful. Engineering departments have wrung wonders from a traditional power source, probably opening their minds to other engineering concepts.

The downside is that equipment purchase and maintenance costs rose fairly precipitously for everyone, from owners of large fleets of machinery to small-to-medium-sized contractors with a few pieces of iron. Meanwhile, contractors operating elsewhere in the world run the older pre-Tier equipment or remove the emissions equipment from newer units to operate the machinery on less refined diesel products. Global air was minimally scrubbed by the Tier mandate.

The unknowable in all this is what the arc of equipment engineering might have been had the industry not been forced to focus exclusively on emissions. The diesel-electric hybrid technology well might have been further along. New metallurgical combinations might have been found to harden or lighten equipment components. Advances in hydraulic or transmission systems might have changed critical design parameters.

All such speculation is of little value except as a reminder that the dynamics of discovery are more complex than some government bureaucrats or political leaders believe them to be. Only in the offices of government regulators is progress believed to be straightforward and linear, with edicts invariably producing optimum progress. For good reason do heavy equipment manufacturers worry about a new round of mandates.

In a perfect world, regulators with the best interests of society in mind would give realistic incentives to construction OEMs to prod development in one organic direction or another. Prodding and mandating are not the same thing, and the industry hopes not to see a recurrence of Tier IV tyranny.

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