Court delay adds uncertainty to greenhouse gas regulations

The Truck Trailer Manufacturer's Association has challenged in court whether EPA and NHTSA have the authority to regulate trailers for emissions. The government has been been granted a delay in the lawsuit to further review the rules.

The Truck Trailer Manufacturer's Association has challenged in court whether EPA and NHTSA have the authority to regulate trailers for emissions. The government has been been granted a delay in the lawsuit to further review the rules.

Government sought 90-day delay in lawsuit to further review Obama-era regs

The Trump administration may be heading down the same path with the Environmental Protection Agency’s and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Phase 2 Greenhouse Gas Regulations (GHG) as it is with the light-duty standards following a U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia’s decision in the government’s favor this week.

The court approved a request for a 90-day delay on a lawsuit brought by the Truck Trailer Manufacturer's Association and the Racing Enthusiasts Suppliers Coalition. Both groups have argued that EPA and NHTSA have exceeded their authority by seeking to regulate trailers, which do not have motors and are therefore outside the scope of emissions regulations. EPA and NHTSA asked the court for more time to review the rules, suggesting the administration may seek to modify or possibly cancel the rules, which go into effect beginning on Jan. 1, 2018.

President Donald Trump in March ordered a review of the light-duty vehicle rules put in place by the Obama administration. Those rules require fuel economy of new cars to average 54.5 mpg by 2025. The heavy-duty truck rules are more complex, and generally have been accepted by the industry.

However, unlike the Phase 1 rules which affected only tractors, the Phase 2 rules will impact trailers. That brought a challenge from TTMA. The association opposed the court delay requested by EPA and NHTSA.

In an April filing opposing the delay, TTMA said “its members would be unfairly prejudiced by a 90-day abeyance, absent some action by the agencies to defer trailer manufacturers’ compliance obligations by an equivalent time period.”

EPA said it needed the time to review TTMA’s request for reconsideration of the rule.

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“These tasks cannot be delayed and then compressed into a three-to-four-month period later this fall if the agencies are allowed a 90-day abeyance to consider whether to stay or reconsider the final rule and then decide to do neither,” TTMA wrote in the brief. “Absent some administrative or judicial action to stay the compliance deadlines, postponing the litigation of this case by 90 days — which effectively ensures that TTMA could not obtain relief from this court by the time TTMA members must expend substantial resources to comply — would be fundamentally unfair to TTMA and its members.”

The delay does not stop the rules from going into implementation, but does give the government agencies time to assess their impact and costs.

The Phase 2 rule regulates combination tractors (and engines), trailers, heavy-duty pickups and vans, and vocational vehicles. When it issued the rules in 2016, the government said that carbon dioxide emissions would be lowered by approximately 1.1 billion metric tons and save vehicle owners $170 billion. NHTSA projects a $7.8 billion to $8.5 billion savings for the industry.

The rules will begin to be phased in starting on Jan. 1, 2018, but not be fully implemented until 2027. They do not explicitly say how manufacturers are to meet the standards, but changes to engines, transmissions, drivelines, and aerodynamic design are among the avenues expected to be explored.

Engines must reduce fuel consumption by up to 5% for tractors and 4% for vocational engines compared to Phase 1, EPA and NHTSA said. Engines must start hitting targets in 2021.

For trailers, GHG standards will be voluntary until 2021 with full compliance expected by 2027. Trailers need to achieve a 9% reduction on carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption compared to a 2017 model trailer.

Speaking at the recent Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo in Long Beach, CA, Mack Truck’s Jonathan Randall, senior vice president of North American Sales, summed up the approach that most of the truck makers are taking toward the Phase 2 rules. Even if the rule doesn’t go forward, the sentiment seems to be that manufacturers will continue to seek new ways to reduce fuel usage because that’s the current mindset of fleets.

“I don’t see any changes in product development, nor or we counting on any rollback or seeking any changes [to GHG rules],” he said.

“The product development pipeline has been filled in advance of this [rule],” Kary Schaefer, general manager of marketing and strategy for Daimler Trucks North America, added to the panel discussion. “A rollback won’t change the technical development of vehicles that have happened or are slated to happen in the future.”