A federal court has made it official, putting off indefinitely the implementation date for trailers under the federal government’s heavy-duty truck fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions standards (GHG2). Whether the decision to stay the January 1 deadline eases or compounds uncertainty for trailer manufacturers and freight carriers remains to be seen, however.
And then there’s the problem of what might come next, if the rule is revised or rescinded.
But first the news: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Oct. 27 granted the stay, as requested by the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association (TTMA) in its petition for a of review the trailer component of GHG2.
Trailers were included in the emissions program as an integral part of the vehicle. TTMA, however, has argued that the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t have the authority to regulate trailers under the Clean Air Act, while also taking issue with a number of the assumptions EPA used to justify the regulation.
“It’s a good thing,” TTMA President Jeff Sims told Trailer/Body Builders, speaking of the court decision. “It’s an indefinite stay, basically until EPA comes out with their final review of the rules for trailers. Trailers can be built as if the rules do not exist.”
In August, EPA announced that the government would “reconsider” portions of GHG 2 that pertain to trailers and truck glider equipment. And earlier this month, citing “the regulatory overreach” of the Obama administration, the EPA formally announced the proposal to exempt gliders kits from GHG2.
EPA said that gliders should not be regulated as “new motor vehicles” or “new motor vehicle engines” under the Clean Air Act. “I’m fairly confident EPA will have the same for trailers,” Sims added.
If only things were as simple as the government saying “never mind.”
Speaking at the NTDA annual convention last month (see Page 45 for our convention coverage), Glenn Kedzie, vice president and energy and environmental counsel for the American Trucking Associations, detailed the vast scope of GHG2. He displayed a photograph of the 7,400-page document.
“This is one the most complex matters I’ve worked on since I’ve been in this industry. It was a monster of a rule—even my stickies had stickies,” he said, referring the notes he attached to his copy. “There are so many moving parts. And every moving part that shifts, causes something else to shift.”
For ATA, the issue is return on investment. Kedzie. pointed out that “all three branches” of the federal government had a hand in GHG2 as both Congress and the Supreme Court gave the go-ahead. The carrot is that fleets will benefit directly from improved fuel efficiency. And the 10-year implementation schedule was part of the deal to get the trucking industry to get behind GHG2.
Still, as far as trailers go, the rule does include some bureaucratic sleight of hand—and some cause for concern. For instance, as Kedzie noted, trailer aerodynamic equipment such as skirts and tails—“just pieces of plastic”—are now considered “emissions control devices” under the Clean Air Act and, therefore, are subject to anti-tampering laws.
But tampering with the rule at this point invites unintended consequences as well.
First, the administration can’t just wipe a rule off the books. Another round of rulemaking is required. So whether the EPA’s promised review means trying to find a better way to incorporate trailers, or removing trailer altogether, even fast-tracking the process would take at least 18 months, Kedzie noted. Then there’s the complication of GHG2 being a joint rulemaking between EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
“If trailers are taken out legally on the EPA side, I think it’s going to be a little more difficult to take them out on the NHTSA side,” Kedzie said.
And, there’s “The country of California,” as Kedzie referred to it, has to be considered. The state that has no qualms about enacting its own emissions regulations has remained somewhat on the sidelines, accepting the federal GHG2 plan. Any tinkering, however, invites California back in to the game.
“The results are going to be far more stringent than the federal Phase 2 rule would end up being,” he said—including requiring aero devices on trailer types not covered under the federal rule, such as tankers and flatbeds, and even retrofits of existing equipment. “This is going to places that we have never seen before in this industry.”
ATA contends that for interstate commerce to flow—as guaranteed by law—states can’t come up with their own rules governing trucking. And with such a “patchwork,” the responsibility for compliance shifts from the manufacturers to the end user.
Or manufacturers could simply adopt the California rules as the de facto national standard.
“One thing that can be said for certain, no matter what decision is made wherever, this is going to end up in the courts,” Kedzie concluded. “It’s like dominoes: Depending on where EPA ends up, California may take over the program, or they may not. But I foresee the litigation will outlast this administration.”