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EPA takes ‘big first step’ on trailer GHG reconsideration

Aug. 18, 2017
2018 Phase 2 implementation schedule still in place, TTMA cautions

Maybe trailers shouldn’t be considered motor vehicles after all. The federal agencies responsible for implementing the next phase of heavy-duty fuel efficiency standards have notified the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association that the industry’s concerns warrant a formal reconsideration of the regulation. TTMA President Jeff Sims called the government’s decision “a big first step towards solving the entire issue.” But he cautions that the looming implementation date—and the associated uncertainty for trailer manufacturers and their customers—remains in place, at least for the time being.

The issue for TTMA, essentially, is that the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t have the authority to regulate trailers under the Clean Air Act. For Phase 2 of the Obama Administration’s truck fuel efficiency/greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards, trailers and other equipment are treated as an integral part of the commercial vehicle—and TTMA has argued against that assumption throughout the rulemaking process, including a post-publication court filing and subsequent requests to the new Trump administration.

And on Thursday those requests were finally answered by both EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In EPA’s reply, Administrator F. Scott Pruitt highlighted the trailer association’s key points:

• TTMA noted that the Clean Air Act definition of "motor vehicle" refers to "self-propelled" vehicles, and TTMA challenges the EPA's authority to regulate truck trailers because they are not self-propelled.

• TTMA challenges the EPA's authority to regulate truck trailers as incomplete motor vehicles.

• TTMA disputes the EPA's projection of greenhouse gas and fuel economy benefits because of concerns about the vehicle speed profile assumed by the EPA.

• TTMA projects that weight of the new emission components will decrease available payload which would cause an increase in the number of trucks on the road. TTMA estimates that this would increase both greenhouse gas emissions and fatal crashes.

“In light of these issues, the EPA has decided to revisit the Phase 2 trailer provisions in general, and the issue of the EPA's authority to regulate trailers in particular,” Pruitt writes. “We intend to develop and issue a Federal Register notice of proposed rulemaking on this matter, consistent with the requirements of the Clean Air Act.”

However, “the EPA has made no decision at this time regarding your request for an administrative stay.”

NHTSA Acting Deputy Administrator Jack Danielson provided a brief response, granting the petition for rulemaking but noting that doing so “does not prejudge the outcome” or mean that a final rule will be issued.

TTMA’s Sims said that he “looks forward to full administrative review” of the trailer GHG rules.

Jeff Sims

“Our concern remains over the implementation date of those rules, which are still scheduled to begin with January 2018 trailer production, just a few short months away,” he said.

Most heavy-duty trailers are custom-ordered, Sims explained, and the required lead time for scheduling production means that manufacturers are quoting orders for 2018 delivery—and, depending on the application, that could force customers to purchase equipment they do not want and that will not produce any fuel efficiencies in their operations.

Moreover, he noted, much of this equipment is still not certified by EPA, so trailer manufacturers are not certain if they can incorporate the equipment into future orders and still comply with the regulations.

“This is disrupting the normal ordering process and is frustrating both customers and manufacturers,” Simms said. “TTMA hopes the implementation date will be stayed until the agencies complete their review.”

Great Dane likewise is “encouraged” by the decision to reconsider the trailer provision in the GHG2 regulation. While the trailer manufacturer “earnestly supports” making trailers more fuel efficient, and is actively involved in SuperTruck II to develop new fuel saving technology, “the current regulation for trailers is flawed in that it takes a ‘one size fits all’ approach which in some cases offers no fuel savings and arguably increases fuel consumption, and even puts some fleets at a disadvantage,” said Rick Mullininx, executive vice president, engineering. “Great Dane strongly supports the EPA's voluntary SmartWay program and driving the fuel saving technology based on market conditions, where the benefits outweigh costs. Given this is only a review of the current regulation, Great Dane will proceed as planned with GHG2 compliance.”

The Western States Trucking Association has also argued that EPA exceeded its authority in its application of the Clean Air Act to regulate GHG, and in allowing the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to do so, as well.

“It has always been this association’s position that regulating trailers either by CARB or EPA was a grand example of regulatory overreach,” said Joe Rajkovacz, director of governmental affairs for Western States. “CARB worked closely with the EPA in crafting this aspect of Phase II since they originated the tractor/trailer GHG rule in this state and in Phase II you basically saw the federal adoption of what CARB mandated. This has always been a case of ‘the ends justify the means’ and ... only an ideologue could ever claim a trailer is somehow a ‘motor vehicle” under the Clean Air Act.

“Truckers don’t need bureaucrats telling them how to save on their number one expense—fuel. If it makes financial sense in their operation, they’ll adopt the technology without Big Brother’s help.”

But American Trucking Associations officials said they were concerned that by moving to reopen Phase 2, EPA could be setting the stage for California to impose a more aggressive, de facto national standard, superseding federal rules.

“ATA is proud of our record on fuel efficiency and sustainability,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear.  “As representatives of an interstate industry, ATA believes a single national standard, set by federal regulators, is preferable to at worst, a patchwork of state standards or at best, a de facto national standard that is set without the appropriate opportunity for the entire regulated community—many members of which are not based in California—to weigh in.”

Environmental groups, however, oppose any rollback of emissions regulations.

The Environmental Defense Fund sees the decision to reconsider Phase II as short sighted, and a “capitulation to industry requests” that ignores the cost effectiveness of pollution control technologies and efficiency standards for trailers, and “the firm legal basis for these standards.”

“Rolling back clean air and fuel efficiency standards for our nation’s freight haulers would cost consumers and truckers money and mean more harmful pollution for our communities and families,” said EDF Attorney Alice Henderson. “These common-sense standards reduce our country’s reliance on imported oil, save money, and help keep Americans safe from the clear and present danger of climate change.”

About the Author

Kevin Jones | Editor