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Court halts NHTSA rule compliance for trailer manufacturers

Stay issued by appeals court gives manufacturers clarity for 2021 production year

Trailer manufacturers have more assurance on 2021 production year. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

U.S. trailer manufacturers have received short-term relief from emissions regulations scheduled to go into effect in January that are considered likely to bump up the cost of new trailers.

In a decision filed Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ordered that the compliance dates for new fuel economy standards issued by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) be stayed pending a further court order. The decision was in response to a petition filed earlier this year by the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association (TTMA).

“This court-ordered stay means trailer manufacturers will be able to continue receiving orders for trailer delivery in 2021 while we await the final decision from the court on the legality of the both the NHTSA and EPA rules,” TTMA President Jeff Sims said in a statement.

TTMA – made up of members that manufacture approximately 90% of the trailers operating on U.S. highways, according to the group – had initiated its lawsuit against the Obama administration’s new Phase 2 emissions standards in December 2016. The rules imposed first-time fuel economy standards on trailers. TTMA contended that because trailers do not emit pollution, the two agencies lacked the authority to regulate them and that the rule should not apply.

EPA and NHTSA subsequently asked the appeals court to hold TTMA’s lawsuit in abeyance while the agencies reconsidered the rules. In December 2019, the court granted TTMA’s motion to lift the abeyance so that TTMA’s lawsuit could be addressed before the fuel economy standards take effect.

During oral arguments earlier this month, an attorney for TTMA argued that the court had to act swiftly on the group’s stay request. “It really is causing enormous problems for trailer manufacturers right now because they can’t take orders while assuring their customers that they can actually sell those trailers in 2021,” attorney Elisabeth Theodore warned. “There is irreparable harm going on right now and every day, and that’s why we would ask the court to act as swiftly as it can on the stay.”

New trailers can cost roughly $25,000 to $50,000. The Phase 2 greenhouse gas requirements include performance standards that trailer manufacturers can meet by equipping them with aerodynamic features that reduce drag, low rolling-resistance tires, tire pressure monitoring systems and weight-reduction measures. Those changes can tack on thousands of dollars to prices paid by trucking companies.

Several environmental groups along with eight states – California, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington – are intervening on the side of the federal government, asserting that TTMA has failed to prove its members will be irreparably harmed.

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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.