Maybe it was inevitable.
With states like Arizona and Idaho doing their best to nullify the regulatory power of the Environmental Protection Agency, and climate denialism perhaps its most virulent, it is in keeping with an absurdist logic that “coal rolling,” the act of modifying a truck to spew black soot, has emerged as a phenomena. It seems a certain subset of far-right conservatives has found a physical representation of its gleeful disdain for all things environmental.
“Coal rollers” modify their diesel trucks with smoke stacks and smoke switches, which increases the amount of fuel that is dumped into the engine, causing it to combust improperly and emit a black plume of smoke when the engine is revved.
Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr pages dedicated to this subculture are populated with photos of modified pickup trucks, often bearing “Prius Repellent” stickers on their rear windshield, with arrows pointing to the smoke stacks.
"[T]he short answer is this is illegal," Liz Purchia, the press secretary for the EPA, told Talking Points Memo on Monday. “It is a violation of the [Clean Air Act] to manufacture, sell, or install a part for a motor vehicle that bypasses, defeats, or renders inoperative any emission control device,” reads one section of the EPA’s website. “The CAA prohibits anyone from tampering with an emission control device on a motor vehicle by removing it or making it inoperable prior to or after the sale or delivery to the buyer.”
Aside from raising atmospheric CO2 levels, the main contributor to human-driven climate change, diesel exhaust poses a significant threat to human health. Exposure to diesel exhaust can cause cancer, and particulate matter, a component of diesel exhaust, is estimated to cause 15,000 premature deaths each year, according to the EPA. Coal rollers don’t seem to mind.
“I’m not a scientist, but it couldn’t be too horrible,” Robbie, a 25-year-old coal roller and mechanic at a diesel garage in South Carolina, told Vocativ. “There are a lot of factories that are doing way worse than my truck.”