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Challenges to Long-Awaited Truck Rules Set for ‘Uphill Battle’

March 7, 2022, 9:58 PM

Environmental and health groups lauded the Biden administration’s push for stricter heavy truck emission limits unveiled Monday, citing the potential to save thousands of lives and billions of dollars in the next two decades.

Legal challenges are almost certain for finalized rules that tighten up nitrogen oxides emissions from the freight fleet, but critics looking to take future standards to court will likely face an “uphill battle,” according to Institute for Policy Integrity attorney Meredith Hankins.

“Certainly there are costs to the industry, we can’t paper over that, but you can see that the overall net benefits for society under these rules are quite high,” Hankins said.

The standards would clean up the fleet by cutting emissions starting in model year 2027, resulting in 2,100 fewer premature deaths a year from air pollution, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Most of the emissions’ public health effects fall on the “seventy-two million” marginalized people living at the fence lines of truck routes, Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

Truck & Engine Manufacturers Association president Jed Mandel told Bloomberg Law that, though supportive of emission reductions, the group is “still reviewing and digesting the proposed new rule.”

The proposal offers two options for reductions. One option offers an increase in 2027 followed by another in 2031, cutting emissions by 90%. The other proposes one-time steeper cuts beginning in 2027, estimated to cut 75% of emissions.

“We are concerned that achieving the [first] option will be cost prohibitive and could result in older trucks staying on the roads longer, which would undermine environmental goals,” he said in an email.

Catching Up

Nitrogen oxides are toxic plumes released when fuel is burned at hot temperatures. They can mix with other chemicals and organic material in the air to produce ozone and particulate matter pollution and can lead to cardiovascular and pulmonary problems in concentrated doses.

In the U.S, 97% of the population lives in areas that exceed World Health Organization limits for long-term ozone exposure, according to Health Effects Institute air quality data released last week. People of color and low-income communities share an outsize chunk of that burden.

“For over a decade, I’ve worked with my colleagues to transition dirty diesel engines from our trucks, buses, and ports to cleaner, more efficient engines,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said in a statement on the rule. “In doing so, we clean up the air that nearby communities breathe and address the climate crisis while reducing our dependence on foreign oil.”

The move toward lower-emission fleets chips away at U.S. reliance on fossil fuels, which is “welcome news” as Russia’s war on Ukraine drives up oil prices, according to the League of Conservation Voters’ senior director of government affairs, Matthew Davis.

Regulators have been playing “catch-up” for years on these rules, since the trucking industry is so large and trucks have such a long lifespan on the road, according to Hankins.

“There has been a lot more focus on the light duty end in the last couple decades, but I think especially as the environmental justice impacts of trucking and the logistics industry have become more and more important, these rules have really come to the forefront,” Hankins said.

VIDEO: Will Environmental Justice Change Under Biden?

Long Runway

Some members of the trucking industry expressed concern that new rules and the costs that come with them could exacerbate a sector already faced with dwindling drivers and supply chain issues.

Unpredictability of supply chain woes years from now and “reverberations from the ongoing pandemic and chip shortages” leaves room to grow for any future rules, Mandel noted.

“The final rule will need to be developed with an appropriate consideration for some level of potential uncertainty,” he said.

The long runway provided by the Clean Air Act for implementation makes supply chain issues overblown, and gives manufacturers “ample time to design and deploy the technology they need to meet these standards,” said Paul Billings, the American Lung Association advocacy senior vice president.

“I think you’ll see people figure out ways to comply with the rules in a more efficient and effective and probably cheaper way than EPA can forecast more than four years out,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jennifer Hijazi in Washington at jhijazi@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com