Trump administration eyes truck emissions standards for its next climate rollback

Scott Pruitt targets yet another greenhouse gas emissions-cutting standard.

The Trump administration plans to revisit a possible rollback of emissions standards for freight truck.  CREDIT: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
The Trump administration plans to revisit a possible rollback of emissions standards for freight truck. CREDIT: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

The Trump administration plans to revisit greenhouse gas emissions and efficiency standards for freight trucks just months before the standards are scheduled to take effect, a decision environmental groups view as yet another capitulation by the administration to industry demands.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation announced on Thursday formal steps to begin reconsidering the greenhouse gas pollution and fuel economy standards of large trucks, focused on the standards for freight trailers. The Obama administration designed the standards to make heavy-duty tractor-trailers more efficient and less polluting.

The standards received heavy criticism from the trucking industry, which argued the EPA did not have authority to regulate them under the Clean Air Act. On Thursday, the EPA said that in response to “concerns raised by stakeholders in the trailer and glider industry,” it would be taking another look at the standards.

“We intend to initiate a rule-making process that incorporates the latest technical data and is wholly consistent with our authority under the Clean Air Act,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement.

The announcement comes a week after the EPA said it plans to relax the nation’s greenhouse gas pollution standards for passenger vehicles. Passenger cars and light trucks account for about 45 percent of all U.S. oil consumption and more than 20 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

“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. 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,” Environmental Defense Fund attorney Alice Henderson said in a statement Thursday.

In September 2011, the EPA and the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued greenhouse gas emissions and fuel efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles for model year 2014-2018.

Last October, the two agencies updated the standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, as well as regulated trailers and gliders, with compliance deadlines beginning on January 1, 2018. The trailer and “glider kit” sectors countered that the EPA lacks authority to regulate them under the Clean Air Act because their products are not self-propelled “motor vehicles.”

The term “glider kit” is used in the heavy-duty vehicle industry to describe a chassis and cab assembly that is generally produced by a vehicle manufacturer without a new engine, transmission, or rear axle. A third party typically installs a used engine, transmission, and rear axle to complete assembly of the vehicle.

These heavy-duty trucks use more than 125 million gallons of fuel every day. They emit nearly 450 million metric tons of climate pollution annually, making them one of the fastest growing sources of climate change pollution.

The EPA and Department of Transportation’s plans to weaken the trailer standards are “in capitulation to industry requests, ignoring the robust technical record confirming the cost effectiveness of pollution control technologies and efficiency standards for trailers, and the firm legal basis for these standards,” EDF said in its statement.