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Truck trailer group accuses regulators of trying to rewrite emissions law

Manufacturers call out EPA’s “nonsense” effort to define trailers as trucks

TTMA members comprise 90% of trailers on U.S. highways. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Truck trailer manufacturers are hitting back at efforts by federal regulators to define trailers as motor vehicles as the equipment makers try to steer clear of additional costs resulting from new emissions standards.

In a June 23 filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association (TTMA) accused the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of a “convoluted effort to rewrite a simple statute” in order to regulate truck trailers.

“This is nonsense,” TTMA’s lawyers asserted. “EPA cannot circumvent an express limitation on its authority by engaging in word games.” TTMA argued that because Congress used the term “self-propelled” to distinguish tractors from the trailers they pull, EPA cannot interpret the law to allow the regulation of trailers as “self-propelled motor vehicles” just because a truck can pull them.

“In any event, EPA’s approach fails on its own terms. When a trailer is attached to a tractor, the combination is a self-propelled vehicle pulling a trailer; the combination does not transform a trailer into a self-propelled vehicle. Trailer manufacturers do not manufacture ‘tractor-trailers’ any more than Jif manufactures peanut-butter sandwiches.” TTMA requested that the court remove all parts of the final rule that apply to trailers.

TTMA’s filing is the latest in a lawsuit initiated in December 2016 seeking a review of the Obama administration’s Phase 2 greenhouse gas emissions standards, issued in October of that year jointly by EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The rule imposed first-time fuel economy standards on trailers. The standards are set to go into effect in January 2021. 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 NHTSA’s fuel economy standards take effect in January 2021.

“Trailers are highly customized and are ordered months in advance because they are built to order, meaning that TTMA’s members will begin taking orders for 2021 in the coming months,” the group cautioned in December. “TTMA’s members need to know whether the rule will apply to the trailers they sell for the 2021 model year.”

But with oral arguments now scheduled for Sept. 15, TTMA’s members — which manufacture approximately 90% of the trailers operating on U.S. highways, according to the group — will likely not be receiving the clarity they had been seeking in time for the 2021 model year.

TTMA President Jeff Sims, who has been concerned about the lack of a decision on his group’s petition, was not immediately available to comment on the ruling delay and the implications for members.

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.

While those new features can help long-haul carriers save on fuel costs, industry reports have noted that hauls moving at lower speeds do not generate the same fuel cost savings but merely add weight and potentially displace freight.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

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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.