The Biden administration will soon issue new tailpipe emissions standards for trucks that most truckers — from single owner-operators to owners of large fleets — warn could place heavy cost burdens onto the U.S. economy as a recession already looms.
As proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in March, the new nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions standards for heavy-duty truck engines will be either a two- or one-step process.
The two-step process, Option 1, would set a stringency increase first in model year (MY) 2027 and a second increase in MY 2031. The one-step process, Option 2, would immediately jump to full implementation of a NOx standard in model year 2027.
The 2031 standards under Option 1 would lower truck emissions by 90% compared to current norms, and EPA estimates that NOx emissions from the total fleet of heavy-duty trucks on the road in 2045 would decrease by as much as 60%. Option 2 would achieve less overall NOx emissions reductions than Option 1, according to EPA.
In addition, EPA is proposing longer emissions warranty periods that would increase the number of useful life miles covered under warranty, as well as making improvements to engine serviceability.
Trucking: costs outweigh benefits
Because transportation-related NOx emissions are a major contributor to air pollution, the Biden administration estimates the rule could provide as much as $250 billion in public health benefits. But the trucking industry maintains those benefits would be outweighed by other costs if the rule as proposed is finalized, based on comments filed after the proposal was announced in March.
“If the proposed rule, either option, is adopted, many if not most carriers and truckers will opt to keep the vehicle(s) they have for longer than they otherwise would have,” stated David Owen, president of the National Association of Small Trucking Companies (NASTC), whose members own an average of 10 trucks.
“Small-business truckers in general cannot afford to buy brand-new power units, which today cost around $140,000. New vehicles complying with the proposed rule as of MY 27 will cost significantly more — reflecting the sophisticated new technologies that enable their engines to meet the new standards and requirements, a period of inflation-fed cost increases and new technologically complex systems still working out the bugs. So, for the large percentage of carriers having 20 or fewer trucks, the new vehicles will be even less of an option; these carriers will remain in the used heavy-duty truck market.”
Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association President and CEO Todd Spencer agreed that both options as currently proposed do not provide the production timelines necessary to ensure that trucks adhering to the new standards will be affordable.
“Any final rulemaking must better prioritize affordability for owner-operator drivers who will be required to purchase and install new equipment,” Spencer stated. “This rulemaking must ensure that drivers and carriers who are investing in new vehicles are getting a fair deal and will not be constantly sidelined from their profession due to costly and repeated breakdowns.”
Inflation Reduction Act could ease the burden
Plenty of the close to 2,000 comments came from supporters of the proposed options, as well as from those who thought they are not strict enough.
The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which supports EPA’s rulemaking, told the agency in October that since the comment period on the proposal ended in May, the Inflation Reduction Act was signed into law by President Biden. The law, EDF pointed out, provides billions in grants and incentives aimed at cutting emissions, including up to $40,000 toward the purchase of a new heavy-duty truck.
An EDF-commissioned electric vehicle market update, also released after the comment period closed, found vehicle and battery manufacturers will spend more than $626 billion through 2030 to develop new EVs, including freight trucks.
“Considering these developments, we urge EPA to finalize rigorous and comprehensive standards for new medium- and heavy-duty vehicles that help to ensure levels of new zero-emitting vehicle sales in 2029 are at least as great as those required by California’s Advanced Clean Trucks Rule, if those standards applied nationwide,” EDF stated.
EPA’s Option 2 considered more workable
The Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association, which asserts that EPA’s proposed Option 1 is “not technically feasible,” urged EPA to instead consider Option 2, “which could be the foundation for a workable rule that will meet environmental goals without stalling progress toward zero-emissions vehicles or adversely affecting the nation’s economy.”
Rick Todd, president and CEO of the South Carolina Trucking Association, contended that because Option 1 may be unworkable depending on a carrier’s business model, it could jeopardize jobs and slow environmental progress.
“While this rule is directed at manufacturers, it is trucking companies buying new technologies that determine the success or failure in the implementation of every trucking emission regulation,” Todd stated.
To be effective, he wrote, the final rule must result in new trucks that are:
- Affordable. If trucking companies choose not to purchase new trucks due to cost or reliability concerns, older trucks will stay on the road longer and environmental goals will not be achieved.
- Durable. New, more expensive trucks are not purchased to sit in repair bays. Trucks are unproductive pieces of equipment unless they are moving freight.
- Safe. Safety is a top priority in every trucking operation. Putting off the purchase of the newest equipment will delay the use of the latest safety technologies.
- Cleaner. An unworkable rule will delay fleet turnover and impede environmental progress.
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