Foes of Obama truck rules hope for sympathy from Trump team

Source: Camille von Kaenel, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, August 4, 2017

Critics of the Obama administration’s effort to make all big rigs significantly less polluting are hoping the Trump administration will ease up on those regulations.

Seeing an opening in President Trump’s rollback of other climate regulations, small groups within the trucking industry are redoubling their pressure on U.S. EPA for exemptions from greenhouse gas standards with new petitions and lawsuits.

EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s measures, finalized last October, would require improvements to fuel efficiency for each category of vehicle, from school buses to 18-wheelers, avoiding 1.1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2027.

In a rare example for a climate regulation, major manufacturers applauded the stricter standards when they came out (Climatewire, Aug. 17, 2016). Now, some sectors of the industry are launching a piecemeal attack to roll them back.

Race car drivers and manufacturers of truck trailers and glider kits, which are new truck frames combined with refurbished old engines, want to prevent the rules from applying to them. They say the EPA rules, which would include them for the first time starting in 2018, would hurt business.

Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, called the requests “a classic case of a special interest seeking a loophole.”

Their voices are likely to be outweighed by bigger players in the industry. Anticipating that the Trump administration may want to take a second look at the rules, major truck manufacturers are going to bat to defend the underlying standards.

“Our support for the rule in its entirety has not changed,” said Brian Mormino, the executive director of worldwide environmental strategy and compliance for Cummins Inc.

Manufacturers that support the rule have sat down with both administration officials and lawmakers in the past months. In the meetings, they outlined the benefits of higher fuel efficiency and regulatory stability. They say that they have already planned products to meet the new standards, set to begin in 2021.

“If the rule as a whole were going to be re-examined or reopened, our group would take a firm position against that,” said Pat Quinn, the executive director of the Heavy Duty Fuel Efficiency Leadership Group. “They like that certainty and predictability that the rule provides, and they think it’s a fair rule.”

His group includes Cummins, Eaton Corp., FedEx Corp., PepsiCo Inc., Wabash National Corp. and Waste Management Inc.

The manufacturers worked closely with EPA to craft the rules, which built on an earlier, more lenient phase. The American Trucking Associations, the Truck and Engine Manufacturer Association, and most individual firms all endorsed the stricter standards when they came out.

The effort to roll back the rules is targeted, not wholesale.

Smaller manufacturers of glider kits — the frames that combine old and new truck parts — say the new regulation, which would place a cap on production at 300 a year, “would effectively destroy the glider industry.” They petitioned EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for relief last month. They say EPA was wrong in categorizing glider kits as “new motor vehicles.”

Because they have not had to comply with modern-day emissions standards so far, glider kits are 25 percent cheaper than a new truck. That has made them increasingly popular over the past 15 years, going from a few hundred on the road to 10,000. Regulators estimated they would represent around one-third of the nitrogen oxides and particulate matter emissions from the truck fleet by 2025.

“It’s a business model designed to skirt regulations,” said Dave Cooke, senior vehicles analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “EPA rightfully closed the loophole.”

But the manufacturers’ petition says the regulation puts “nearly 20,000” jobs at risk. Fitzgerald Glider Kits LLC, based out of Tennessee and Kentucky, said it would be forced to cut production and its 1,600-strong workforce by 90 percent.

The petition urges Pruitt to reopen the rules, citing Trump’s executive order on energy independence.

The manufacturers also submitted new research by Tennessee Tech that found that glider kits were 20 percent more fuel efficient than EPA-compliant vehicles.

A House Appropriations Committee bill contained language asking EPA to further study the environmental impacts of the glider kits.

Meanwhile, big manufacturers like Cummins and Daimler Trucks North America LLC, which also build parts that can go into gliders, have not budged in their support of the rules.

The rules are also under attack by Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association Inc., which is arguing the Clean Air Act does not give the regulators authority over trailers because they have no engine or direct tailpipe emissions. It sued the administration earlier this year asking to be exempt from the standards.

EPA has delayed arguments in the case until Aug. 17. In a filing, the agency says it needs more time to review the trailer manufacturers’ request, and that “it is possible that after reviewing the request, the agencies could decide to conduct further rulemaking or undertake other actions that could obviate the need for judicial resolution of some of or all the issues raised.”

The California Air Resources Board and the Center for Biological Diversity have stepped into the case to defend the rules.

Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) introduced a bill last week to exclude trailers and other vehicles that rely on a self-propelled vehicle from the definition of a motor vehicle, which would exempt trailers from regulation under the Clean Air Act.

An EPA spokesman said today the agency was reviewing the petitions.