EPA preparing nationwide truck emissions regulation

Linda D. Garrow

The Biden administration will soon propose a regulation aimed at cutting nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from heavy-duty trucks. It would be the first such regulation since 2001.

The Environmental Protection Agency “is working on a proposed rule to reduce pollution from heavy-duty vehicles and engines that would significantly cut NOx emissions and update [greenhouse gas] standards for certain categories,” EPA spokesman Rick Conger stated in an email to FreightWaves. “These standards, currently subject to interagency review, will be rooted in the latest science and the law.”

Separately, Conger noted, EPA is working to finalize a decision that would restore a California waiver — which had been revoked under the Trump administration — that allows the state to set its own more restrictive emissions standards.

Conger did not confirm reports that EPA’s new NOx regulation will be based on California’s Advanced Clean Truck Regulations, which will affect decisions on buying new trucks beginning with the 2024 model year. A certain percentage of those trucks will need to meet the definitions of zero-emission vehicle (ZEVs).

The most aggressive number for ZEV requirements under ACT is for Class 4-8 trucks, which range from 14,000 to 33,000 pounds. That requirement is that 9% in that class be ZEVs in model year 2024 and 75% by model year 2035. But for Class 7-8 tractors, it’s a 5% requirement in 2024 rising to 40% by the 2032 model year.

California’s definition of ZEVs is largely battery-powered vehicles, with a small opening for hydrogen-powered fuel cells. The Biden administration recently announced $5 billion in program funds for states to begin installing electric vehicle charging stations. A portion of that could potentially be reserved for commercial truck operations.

OEMs “will have to figure out how to adjust — the big cost is figuring out the technology to get to the reduction goals,” Brett Marston, who specializes in environmental risks to businesses at the law firm Wiley Rein, told FreightWaves.

“During the comment period I’m sure OEMs will lay out the additional cost per vehicle, and I would expect that cost to be passed down to the truckers. On the flip side, if they do model it after the California regs, it means it will be easier for the OEMs because they won’t have to follow two types of rules.”

Another provision of ACT requires large employers, including retailers, manufacturers and brokers, to report information about shipments. Fleet owners with 50 or more trucks are required to report on their existing fleet operations. “This information will help identify future strategies to ensure that fleets purchase available zero-emission trucks and place them in service where suitable to meet their needs,” according to the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

Watch: Diesel vs. Electric

CARB has acknowledged that zero-emission trucks have higher upfront costs but lower operating costs than conventional trucks. “Today, the total cost of ownership in California can be comparable to conventional trucks for certain duty cycles without grants or rebates,” the agency stated last year. “As battery prices fall and technology continues to improve, the total cost of ownership is expected to become more favorable.”

Once the regulations are fully phased in, CARB expects to reduce NOx emissions in California by more than 23 tons per day, or the equivalent of taking 16 million light-duty cars off the road in 2031.

The Trump administration in 2020 proposed its own NOx rules for heavy-duty trucks to be phased in beginning in model year 2027, but the regulation was not finalized.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

EPA preparing nationwide truck emissions regulation

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