WAS I the only one cheering at the news of stricter EPA off-road diesel emissions standards? Seems all I heard about the issue for most of the past five years was how taking soot and nitrous oxide (NOX) out of tractor diesel smoke couldn't be done without either bankrupting the industry or passing onerous costs on to farmers.

Perhaps that weighted message ringing in my ears was due to the superior funding of the diesel engine lobby. At times, the industry even rallied farmer organizations to speak out from the “grass roots” against emissions regulations.

The lobbyist-orchestrated movement sounded a lot like the automobile industry when it was collectively whining about the loss of leaded gas in the 1970s. We all know how that worked out. Today, fewer children are getting brain damage from lead poisoning while today's cars and pickup trucks run a lot better with higher gas mileage and more horsepower. Yes, cars are more expensive. But I suspect that higher prices would have happened even without the change from leaded gas.

So the “can't-be-done” argument on diesel emissions just didn't ring true for me. Apparently, it didn't for a lot of people, because not only are the EPA off-road diesel emissions regulations being successfully phased in, engine manufacturers have also apparently decided to embrace that which they cannot avoid. One by one, manufacturers are announcing how their innovative engineers have successfully tweaked and rebuilt their engines to meet Tier 3, the latest stage of the EPA's gradual phase-in of stricter off-road diesel emissions regulations.

As of now, every major company that makes a row-crop tractor engine larger than 175 hp is on schedule to meet Tier 3 by the January 1, 2006, deadline. These companies are also on track to meet even stricter Tier 4 regulations by 2012. In my book, that's great news, because the science on the negative health effects of soot particulate matter and NOX is irrefutable. NOX causes smog. Meanwhile, the soot particles from diesel emissions are so small that several thousand of them could fit on the period at the end of this sentence. The small size of these particles allows them to reach the deepest recesses of the lungs, contributing to premature death, aggravated asthma and many acute respiratory problems.

Recently, though, new tractor introductions have smelled a lot better. It would seem the emissions standards are already making a noticeable, positive difference.

For more information on diesel engines and off-road emissions, visit www.dieselnet.com and www.epa.gov.