By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today proposed tougher emissions standards for heavy duty trucks, vans, and busses, the first such upgrade for this category of vehicles since 2001.
I am aware of the irony of the administration proposing new emissions standards at a time when skyrocketing world oil and natural gas prices will do far more to reduce emissions – as users cut back on their energy use – than any tweak in standards.
Nonetheless, these new rules are the latest in a series of Biden administration policy initiatives intended to address climate change and other environmental standards. Per the New York Times:
Late last year, the E.P.A. tightened standards on auto pollution and announced new rules governing methane, a climate-warming gas that leaks from oil and gas wells. This year, the agency is expected to roll out new restrictions on greenhouse gases and on industrial soot released by power plants.
As to specifics, the NYT reports:
The new draft rule from the Environmental Protection Agency would require heavy-duty trucks to reduce emissions of nitrogen dioxide by 90 percent by 2031. Nitrogen dioxide is linked to lung cancer, heart disease and premature death.
The E.P.A. also announced plans to slightly tighten truck emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is driving climate change. The new rules for nitrogen oxide pollution would apply to trucks beginning with the model year 2027, while the carbon dioxide rules would apply to trucks starting with the model year 2024.
The Wall Street Journal notes that the new standards could increase the cost of new vehicles significantly. That might lead to users keeping older vehicles on the road longer, thereby keeping emissions high and running counter to the Biden administration’s goals:
“We’re concerned that the oldest, highest-emitting trucks on the road today are disproportionately operating in communities suffering from the greatest pollution,” said Jed Mandel, president of the truck and engine manufacturers’ group.
EPA officials say that the new standards should reduce asthma and other public health problems. Per the WSJ:
“These new standards will drastically cut dangerous pollution by harnessing recent advancements in vehicle technologies from across the trucking industry as it advances toward a zero-emissions transportation future,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said.
The Biden administration is framing the truck rule as an issue of environmental justice and elected to have Vice President Kamala Harris announce the new policy. Per the Grey Lady:
The administration is portraying the truck rule announced Monday as central to Mr. Biden’s agenda of environmental justice, as many communities of color are located alongside highways and are subject to elevated levels of pollution.
“Seventy-two million people are estimated to live near truck freight routes in America, and they are more likely to be people of color and those with lower incomes,” the E.P.A. administrator, Michael S. Regan, said. “These overburdened communities are directly exposed to pollution that causes respiratory and cardiovascular problems, among other serious and costly health effects. These new standards will drastically cut dangerous pollution by harnessing recent advancements in vehicle technologies from across the trucking industry as it advances toward a zero-emissions transportation future.”
The new federal standards match those implemented by California last year According to the WSJ:
For new trucks, industry officials have projected that a federal standard that matches California’s rules would increase the cost by between $8,600 and $21,200 for model year 2027.
The trucking industry maintains that it may note be technically feasible to meet the new standards.Whether or not that claim is true is way above my pay grade. But in general, I get suspicious whenever an industry spokesperson criticises heightened regulation on feasibility grounds. Per the WSJ:
The California “standards have never been demonstrated to be technically feasible,” the Truck & Engine Manufacturers Association told White House officials in December. “No [manufacturer] has said they can produce complying product.”
Mandel elaborated further adverse effects in comments to the NYT:
“We’re worried about the cost. There is a potential of adverse impacts on the economy and jobs. Nobody wants to see union jobs laid off. Regular lunch-pail, blue collar workers.”
These claimed impacts may hit small truckers hardest, according to the NYT:
Jay Grimes, director of federal affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said new restrictions would be especially onerous for small truckers, which he said comprise 90 percent of the industry.
Environmentalists, however, say the new federal standards don’t go far enough. According to the WSJ:
Public-health groups, along with state and local agencies, have pushed the EPA for even tighter rules to help improve air quality both in small, economically disadvantaged communities and major metropolitan areas that experience smog.
They say vehicle-exhaust rules haven’t focused enough on emissions from idling or slow-moving vehicles. The online-shopping boom has also led to an increase in home deliveries as well as warehouses moving into office parks located closer to neighborhoods.
Trucks “are producing the most pollution when they are moving by people’s homes, schools and workplaces,” said Ann Jaworski, a lawyer with nonprofit Environmental Law & Policy Center.
The new federal rules are expected nonetheless to have a public health impact. According to the NYT:
The new limits would prevent up to 2,100 premature deaths, 6,700 hospital admissions and emergency department visits, 18,000 cases of asthma in children, 78,000 lost days of work and 1.1 million lost days of school by the year 2045, according to E.P. A. estimates.
The new rules are not stringent enough to achieve the Biden administration’s ultimate stated goal – to achieve a trucking fleet of all-electric vehicles. According to the NYT:
“It’s great to see that the rule is driving 90 percent reduction in air pollution in heavy-duty vehicles and at the same time opening the door to reducing greenhouse gas pollution,” said Drew Kodjak, executive director of the International Council on Clean Transportation, a research organization. “But we’ve got this thing called climate change and we’ve really got to start driving electrification in the heavy-duty truck sector. My big concern is that the proposal as it is written will not do that.”
Advocates for warehouse workers, many of whom are exposed to constant diesel pollution, said they would like regulations that replace diesel-fueled trucks with electric or zero-emissions vehicles.
“Cutting emissions anywhere is good,” said Yana Kalmyka, an organizer with Warehouse Workers for Justice. “But if you’re thinking about a community that has tens of thousands of trucks a day passing through it, electrification is the only just solution. The rule is not addressing other industrial truck pollutants such as soot, and we know that black and brown communities are facing cumulative burdens from these pollutants.”
These standards, if implemented in 2022 as proposed, might mitigate the public health impact of trucking emissions. Yet as we’re all well aware, time’s running out to take steps on the more pressing issue of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to slow climate change. According to the NYT:
Transportation is the largest single source of greenhouse gases generated by the United States, representing 29 percent of the nation’s total emissions.
The E.P.A. has said it intends to create another set of greenhouse gas rules for trucks, beginning as soon as model year 2030, that will be “significantly stronger” than the current standards, and designed to speed the transition to all-electric trucks.
“Waiting for another few years to do the next set of greenhouse gas standards for trucks is wrong. We just don’t have time,” said Margo Oge, an expert on electric vehicles who headed the E.P.A.’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality from 1994 to 2012. “My hope is that they will use this time to strengthen the standard now.”
Alas, I fear this administration, as was the case with its predecessors, is not up to the stark challenge we face.