More than half of U.S. air pollution comes from mobile sources such as cars, trucks, and farm equipment, the EPA says. Rolling coal is not simply bullying and harmful to the environment, but is putting Colorado drivers at risk of an auto accident.

Colorado Deputies Seeking Exhaust-Pipe Bullies

For drivers spewing big black clouds of soot, choking pedestrians, bicyclists, and other motorists, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office is coming down harder on these offenses.

“Rolling Coal” perpetrators tamper with their engines’ fuel and exhaust systems to circumvent anti-pollution devices. With a stomp on the accelerator, they can shoot out clouds of soot worthy of 1890s steam locomotives. Whether it’s for fun or to make political statements, their targets are usually people on the street or those driving hybrid cars.

Now that it’s illegal in Colorado, and after a few really nasty incidents, deputies are cracking down, Denver’s KCNC- TV reported.

The practice has been illegal under Colorado law since early June when Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill imposing a $100 fine on violators. Federal law carries much stiffer penalties.

But what really made Jefferson County deputies take notice is the cases when black billows engulf helpless victims, KCNC reported. During the Red Rocks Challenge Ride in September, a trucker blew exhaust onto an e-trike cyclist and his passenger, who is living with ALS, sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s disease. Another prank victim was a cyclist commuting to work on 38th Avenue in Wheat Ridge. Police say coal rolling is almost routine in Fort Collins.

Mike Raber of bicycle advocacy group Bike Jeffco said smoke coming from offending trucks can be so thick that riders and drivers can’t see the trucks spewing it, and so expansive that three of four lanes of traffic are shrouded, putting other drivers at risk of an auto accident. When he rides these days, he wears a camera in his helmet to catch violators.

‘Prank’ Can Cause Serious Problems

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office said on its social media page, quoted by KCNC:

“The dangers associated with rolling coal are not benign. … The diesel soot cloud being considered carcinogenic and a possible crisis trigger to asthmatics and others with respiratory disorders, the dark cloud could completely obscure a cyclist’s vision of the road and cause a crash.”

Law enforcers told KCNC that members of the public who see drivers “rolling coal” should gather as much information about the vehicle as possible without drawing the driver’s attention or engaging with the driver. Try to get the license plate number, location, and direction of the vehicle and a description of the driver. A plate number isn’t necessary.

Report the incident in Jefferson County to the sheriff’s office at (303) 277-0211 or to the Colorado State Patrol by dialing *277.

Stiffer Penalties Under Federal Law

Coal rollers who tamper with their trucks are also violating the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says. The law requires new engines to meet the agency’s standards for emissions to protect the public’s health and the environment. It prohibits anyone from tampering with or defeating engine elements that reduce pollution. The EPA prosecutes significant cases through an administrative process in federal district court and can win civil penalties and injunctions against violators. Violators can be fined as much as $45,268 for each vehicle that doesn’t comply and $4,527 for each act of tampering with an engine or selling a device that defeats pollution safeguards.

Effects on Environment, Human Health

More than half of the pollution in the United States’ air comes from mobile sources such as cars, trucks, buses, marine engines, generators, and farm equipment, the EPA says. The pollutants include smog-causing compounds, carcinogens, and greenhouse gases. They affect the environment but are also responsible for asthma, heart disease, and other illnesses.

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