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EPA sets stricter smog rule for model year 2027 trucks

Dec. 21, 2022
Stakeholders’ initial reactions to the federal emissions regulations were mostly positive, with some saying the major rules update will accelerate advanced cleaner-diesel technology. The rulemaking is the first of three steps in EPA's Clean Truck Plan.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued its final and “80% stronger” emissions rules for heavy-duty vehicles on Dec. 20, saying the new regulations will apply to model year 2027 and beyond and that they are the first update to clean air standards for commercial trucks in "more than 20 years"—making a key distinction between nitrous oxide (or NOx) emissions and greenhouse gases (GHG), which EPA now plans to address for the third time since 2011.

In a release, EPA called the new rules “the strongest-ever national clean air standards to cut smog- and soot-forming emissions from heavy-duty trucks,” claiming they are “80% stronger than current standards.”

The final rule, some 1,153 pages, would lower emissions of NOx and other air pollutants beginning with model year 2027 engines and equipment, according to EPA. And, according to the rulemaking, the emission reductions will increase over time as more new, cleaner vehicles enter the market.

See also: Industry reacts to EPA’s truck, engine emissions proposal

“We estimate that the final rule will reduce [NOx] emissions from heavy-duty vehicles in 2040 by more than 40%; by 2045, a year by which most of the regulated fleet will have turned over, heavy-duty NOX emissions will be almost 50% lower than they would have been without this action,” according to an EPA summary within the final rulemaking.

The new standards require heavy-duty commercial vehicles to limit NOx emissions to 0.035 grams per horsepower-hour during normal operation, 0.050 grams at low load, and 10 grams at idle. According to the latest regulations, warranties will be extended to 450,000 miles from 100,000 miles and useful life of a covered commercial vehicle to 650,000 miles from 435,000 miles.

The new rules also are the first move in EPA’s three-step Clean Truck Plan to be followed by proposed Phase 3 GHG standards for heavy-duty vehicles beginning in model year 2027 and multipollutant standards for light- and medium-duty vehicles beginning with that same model year.

Industry reaction is cautious but mostly positive

Jed Mandel, president of one of the top industry stakeholders responsible for helping the trucking industry phase in the new EPA rule and ensure compliance, the Truck & Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA), called the rulemaking “challenging to implement.”

“Our members are fully committed to working with the EPA and other stakeholders for its successful implementation,” Mandel said in an EMA release shortly after EPA spoke. “Ultimately, the success or failure of this rule hinges on the willingness and ability of trucking fleets to invest in purchasing the new technology to replace their older, higher-emitting vehicles.”

EMA, Mandel added, “has a long history of working collaboratively with EPA to inform the development of stringent regulations and policies that achieve cleaner air and healthier communities. Those efforts have produced incredible technological achievements resulting in near-zero levels of NOx and [particulate matter] emissions and improved fuel efficiency from today’s diesel engines.”

Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum (DTF), cited the benefit to the trucking industry of the new rules beside the operation of cleaner commercial vehicles and resulting environmental benefits: The new rules, he said, will push older, more polluting trucks out of freight-hauling fleets more quickly.

See also: As emissions requirements sunset, California wants zero-emissions drayage by 2035

“Just under half of registered commercial trucks operating today are an older generation, pre-2011 model year vehicles with relatively higher emissions without the benefit of particulate traps and/or selective catalytic reduction technology,” Schaeffer said in a DTF-issued release shortly after EPA issued the final new rule on Dec. 20. “The relative benefit of accelerating the turnover of these older trucks on the road today to newer technology will be enormous.”

He added: “The further improvements in diesel engines anticipated in the outcome of this final rule and the ability of truckers to invest in new trucks will be fundamental to ensuring progress toward meeting both local clean air and national climate goals. Without continued turnover in the fleet, older generations of technology with relatively higher emissions will stay in service longer, thereby delaying benefits to disadvantaged communities and contributing to worse air quality all around the country.”

Heavy-truck component supplier Eaton lauded the new EPA rules, with Eaton Vehicle Group President João Faria saying that they will provide “the regulatory certainty needed to deploy the next generation of fuel-efficient and emission-reduction technologies.”

Faria added: “Eaton stands ready to provide cost-effective advanced powertrain technologies that make vehicles more efficient while simultaneously reducing emissions and achieving significant operational savings for our customers’ commercial vehicle fleets.”

Others aren't so happy or are skeptical about the new rule

Other stakeholders were critical of the new EPA rule, with a trucking advocate saying the rule threatens small freight haulers, while an environmental group said the rule isn't ambitious enough.

An email from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), an advocate for independent truckers, called the rulemaking “the EPA’s latest attempt … to put small-business truckers out of work.”

“If small-business truckers can’t afford the new, compliant trucks, they’re going to stay with older, less-efficient trucks, or leave the industry entirely. Once again, EPA has largely ignored the warnings and concerns raised by truckers in this latest rule,” OOIDA President Todd Spencer added.

American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear stressed that "while truck engine emission standards are directed at manufacturers, it is the purchasing decisions of fleets that ultimately determine their success or failure."

"Since 1988, the trucking industry has cut NOx emissions by more than 98%—demonstrating our commitment to protecting the environment. Continued progress on this front will depend on standards that are technologically feasible with equipment that is cost-permitting and reliable for fleets," Spear added.

"ATA remains extremely concerned over the potential growth of state patchworks of NOx emission standards that will create havoc for an industry that operates across local, state, and international boundaries. We hope EPA and the California Air Resources Board will ultimately agree to a uniform, single standard that best achieves our nation’s environmental goals."

Clean-truck advocate Ceres claimed the new EPA rules don’t go far enough.

“The EPA opted today for the less ambitious of its proposed NOx standards and delayed the proposal of greenhouse gas emission standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks until 2023,” Zach Friedman, federal policy director at Ceres, said in a release. “Heavy-duty vehicles are the largest source of greenhouse gas and NOx emissions in the nation's transportation sector.”

Friedman added: “Large commercial vehicles are critical to the functioning of our economy, and there is no reason they must threaten our climate or the health of the communities they pass through. While we are pleased that the EPA will now more effectively regulate NOx pollutants, we are disappointed that the agency did not opt for more aggressive action and stronger, still-feasible standards.”

In April, Ceres provided testimony to the EPA, calling for the stronger proposed set of standards to reduce NOx emissions and grow the market for zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles. And in May, the Corporate Electric Vehicle Alliance—a coalition of companies eager to transition their fleets to clean vehicle models—wrote to the agency to call for “strong standards to ensure the widespread availability of clean trucks in the U.S.” and to strengthen the NOx standards beyond what is now final.

Other aspects of the final EPA rulemaking

EPA estimated that the new final rules will increase the useful life of governed vehicles by 1.5 to 2.5 times and will yield emissions warranties that are 2.8 to 4.5 times longer. The final rules, the agency said, will ensure heavy trucks meet EPA standards for a longer period. It also said the rules require manufacturers to better ensure that engines and emission control systems work properly on the road and OEMs must demonstrate that engines are designed to prevent vehicle drivers from tampering with emission controls by limiting tamper-prone access to electronic pollution controls.

See also: Slow and steady wins the race to zero emissions

In his own agency’s release, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the agency “is taking significant action to protect public health, especially the health of 72 million people living near truck freight routes in America, including our most vulnerable populations in historically overburdened communities.”

In the release, EPA estimated that by 2045, the new heavy-truck rulemaking will have these annual public health benefits:

  • Up to 2,900 fewer premature deaths
  • 6,700 fewer hospital admissions and emergency department visits
  • 18,000 fewer cases of childhood asthma
  • 3.1 million fewer cases of asthma symptoms and allergic rhinitis symptoms
  • 78,000 fewer lost days of work
  • 1.1 million fewer lost school days for children
  • $29 billion in annual net benefits

This article was originally published on FleetOwnerEditorial Director Kevin Jones and Digital Editor Scott Keith assisted with this story.

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Scott Achelpohl

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