Truck trailer manufacturers have won an appeal regarding federal emissions standards. The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit could end up saving their customers millions of dollars in higher trailer costs.
The court on Friday granted a petition initially filed in 2016 by the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association (TTMA) and vacated all portions of a final rule on greenhouse gas emission standards set under the Obama administration that year that apply to trailers.
The 2016 rule, issued jointly by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, attempted to apply to truck trailers the requirements of a statute allowing EPA to regulate motor vehicles and fuel efficiency standards used by NHTSA to regulate commercial heavy-duty trucks.
“Trailers, however, have no motor. They are therefore not ‘motor vehicles,’” according to the majority opinion of the three-judge panel. “Nor are they ‘vehicles’ when that term is used in the context of a vehicle’s fuel economy, since motorless vehicles use no fuel. The [Obama administration’s] final rule relies on statutes that do not give the EPA and NHTSA authority to regulate trailers.”
TTMA had successfully petitioned the appeals court to stay the final rule as it applied to trailers until the court decided the case.
The emissions standards, if left in place, may have required manufacturers to equip trailers with aerodynamic features that reduce drag, bumping up trailer costs. New trailers can cost between $25,000 and $50,000.
“We are pleased that the court saw the errors in the rulemaking from EPA and NHTSA,” TTMA President Jeff Sims said in an email statement. “This puts the decision making in the hands of the people that understand their operations best, the motor carriers.”
For example, Sims noted, fully outfitted trailers being used in highway over-the-road service will gain fuel efficiency from certain devices while another trailer being used in city pick-up and delivery would not gain any efficiencies in fuel economy “and in fact, with the added weight, will use more fuel,” he said.
The decision also provides economic clarity for manufacturers in estimating costs for upcoming model year orders.
Judge Patricia Millett, who concurred with the majority’s view regarding EPA’s authority to regulate trailers, disagreed that NHTSA did not have authority over trailers.
“NHTSA acted under a provision of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that directed NHTSA to establish fuel efficiency standards for commercial medium- and heavy-duty ‘on-highway vehicles,’” she wrote in her partial dissent.
“Unlike the Clean Air Act, the Energy Independence Act contains no definition of the term ‘vehicle’ other than regulating it in its on-highway operation and status. Given that focal point, NHTSA quite reasonably applied a long-established definition of vehicles that includes commercial trailers.”
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