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Politics, power and the grimy art of ‘coal rolling’


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U.S. anti-environmental practice of spewing smoke gains traction in Canada

First video: A smiling blond, in blue shorts and halter-top, strolls beside a two-lane road. A pickup truck rumbles by. Suddenly, she’s enveloped in thick, choking black smoke.

Second video: The back window of a truck sports a big “PRIUS REPELLENT” sticker. When one of Toyota’s hybrids approaches, it, too, gets the smoke-cloud treatment.

Both pickups are powered by turbodiesel engines and their drivers are employing a technique some call “coal rolling,” and others, whose creative juices flow more abundantly, refer to as “rolling coal.”

Simply put, it involves modifying the engine so that when the accelerator is tromped too much fuel pours into the combustion chamber to fully burn and the residue belches from the exhaust, preferably out a big “stack” installed to increase the effect. Removing or hobbling the emission controls enhances the result.

Hundreds of websites and online chat rooms are devoted to discussions of how to achieve the thickest, blackest carcinogenic blast without destroying the truck. The videos described above are among the many — some cheerful, others drenched in venom — displaying the results.

The whole business began with the noble sport of truck pulling: competitors discovered they’d get a boost if they over-fuelled their jumbo-wheeled machines. The smoke was, to them and their fans, an enticing side effect. Soon, it became an end in itself.

Coal rolling is widely practised across the United States and spreading in western Canada. There’s a bit in Ontario, where the modifications are illegal, as is spewing visible exhaust for more than 15 seconds in any five-minute period

“If we witnessed a vehicle causing visible emissions on the road, we would pull it over and do an inspection,” says Environment Ministry spokeswoman Kate Jordan.

The ministry has charged drivers for both tampering with equipment and having visible emissions. Fines range from $305 for a first offence up to $1,000.

But legal niceties haven’t put much of a damper on coal rolling in British Columbia. And Alberta and Saskatchewan, with no emission limits or prohibitions on modifications, are diesel-belcher paradise.

Canadian coal rollers claim, at least for public consumption, that they’re in it purely for the love of those big emissions and the sense of power they convey. These aficionados, in turn, attract derisive comments about small brains and even smaller penises, but I leave such analysis to psychiatry.

For now, though, the Canadian approach is Sunday School tame compared with what’s happening south of the border — despite stern tut-tutting from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

As the blond bombing suggests, some U.S. males view coal rolling as a mating ritual. (With her face obscured by the smoke cloud it is impossible to determine whether she considers it a turn-on.)

For most rollers, though, it’s the weapon of choice in the Great American Culture War.

Many diesel owners are irate over performance-robbing emission controls imposed by the EPA. But that’s just the tip of an iceberg of resentment against environmentalists, conservationists, hybrid drivers, gun controllers, Big Government advocates; in fact, all the Obama-loving lefties who seek to undermine the American Way.

“I run into a lot of people that really don’t like Obama at all,” a Wisconsin roller told Slate magazine. “If he’s into the environment, if he’s into this or that, we’re not. … To get a single stack on my truck — that’s my way of giving them the finger. You want clean air and a tiny carbon footprint? Well, screw you.”

A helpful solution proposed by the other side: “Obama needs to prohibit them from jumping off a bridge.”

The rollers are right about one thing: no matter how foul and obnoxious, their emissions won’t add significantly to the planet’s growing load of greenhouse gases and pollutants. And there’s no evidence — yet — they’ve caused accidents by temporarily blinding and choking other motorists, cyclists or pedestrians.

Still, I’m not quite sure whether to laugh or cry.

Or grab my shotgun and go roller huntin’.

  • Politics, power and the grimy art of ‘coal rolling’
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