Critics skeptical of EPA plans for tougher truck standards

Critics skeptical of EPA plans for tougher truck standards
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The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) latest plans to overhaul trucking regulations are being met with some skepticism from environmental and health groups who worry the agency’s track could undermine tougher state regulations that are in the works.

Flanked by trucking association leaders near Interstate-66 in Virginia, EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump order aims to curb US agencies' use of foreign workers after TVA outrage | EPA transition back to the office alarms employees | Hundreds of green groups oppose BLM nominee EPA transition back to the office alarms employees OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Latest Trump proposal on endangered species could limit future habitat, critics say | House-passed spending bill would block Pebble Mine construction | Interior sends 100K pages of documents to House MORE announced the agency’s intention to regulate nitrogen oxide, a byproduct of vehicle emissions tied with a host of health problems. 

“The trucking industry touches nearly every part of our economy. A strong and resilient trucking industry is imperative to maintaining a strong and resilient economy. Through this initiative, we will modernize heavy-duty truck engines, improving their efficiency and reducing their emissions, which will lead to a healthier environment,” Wheeler said.

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The so-called Cleaner Trucks Initiative proposal is expected later this year, with Monday’s event kicking off a period through which stakeholders can offer feedback on just how the EPA should regulate nitrogen oxide, updating regulations for the first time since 2001.

Trucking groups have asked for updates to the regulations, along with a host of environmental groups. 

An update to the rules could be a major achievement for an agency often chided -- and sued -- for rolling back environmental regulations rather than boosting them. 

But environmental and health groups expressed concern Monday the EPA regulations may not be as stringent as they could or should be, while stymying efforts in California to set ambitious nitrogen oxide standards of their own.

“There’s a fear that there’s an attempt by the truck engine manufacturers to undermine or weaken what California is pursuing by going through EPA,” said Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy at the American Lung Association. 

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Messaging from the American Trucking Association (ATA) shows a clear desire to avoid the dueling standards that could result once California finalizes its own proposal.

“ATA is committed to continuing  to work closely with EPA on developing the next generation of low-[nitrogen oxide] emitting trucks through the Cleaner Trucks Initiative. To this end, the trucking industry seeks one national, harmonized [nitrogen oxide] emissions standard that will result in positive environmental progress while not compromising truck performance and delivery of the nation’s goods,” Bill Sullivan, ATA’s executive vice president of advocacy, said in a statement.

California and the EPA have been in a long battle over another set of regulations dealing with emissions from cars. The state and agency are locked in a legal battle after the EPA revokes its waiver for setting tougher tailpipe emission standards that are in turn adopted by many other states over the federal ones. 

Billings said when it comes to trucking regulations, groups don’t fear the same rollback the EPA has proposed for cars.

“What’s different here is that the EPA is not just trying to blow up and destroy effective regulations. This is an attempt by EPA to actually improve on the status quo. The question is will they improve it in ways that are meaningful and significantly reduce pollution and protect public health or will they take modest, limited steps?” he asked.

Nitrogen oxide is linked with asthma and other lung ailments, and it’s produced by a growing sector of pollution. Transportation is now the largest source of carbon emissions in the U.S., following efforts to reduce pollution from electricity generation.

Others, like Billings, hope the new standards push tougher standards on the industry, given the long turnover time in fleets and infrequency with which the rule has been undated.

“The current standards do not adequately capture real-world performance, and as a result, the nearly 20-year-old rules are not yielding the local reductions needed,” Dave Cooke, a senior vehicles analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote. 

“Given the slow turnover in the truck fleet, the lengthy EPA rule-making process, lead-time restrictions preventing federal implementation until 2026 at the earliest, and a movement already underway towards zero-emission freight, it is possible that the actions undertaken by this administration could be the last set of national pollution standards ever set for diesel-powered trucks.”

Updated at 6:11 p.m.