Regulations. Trucking companies deal with them every day, in every aspect of their operations. Of course, society needs some level of rules and regulations. Before we had stronger clean air and water rules, cities were choked by smog, and Ohio’s Cuyahoga River was notorious for catching on fire because of the oily pollution floating on its surface. Before we had child labor laws, children were maimed and killed in factories.
But the devil of regulations is always in the details. Even the best-intentioned regulations result in trade-offs and unexpected consequences.
A perfect example is the EPA diesel emissions rules that took effect in the first decade of this century. Regulations often push industries to innovate, but in this case, the efforts to slash emissions of particulate matter and nitrous oxides pushed too far, too fast. The resulting engines did not have enough testing time, so they broke down frequently, the bane of fleet maintenance managers and engine-maker warranty claims officers alike. The new lower-emissions engines were also less fuel-efficient, so society traded one type of emissions (NOx and PM) for another – greenhouse gas emissions.
When you look at examples like that, it’s not surprising that deregulation was a top priority of the Trump administration. But how do you find the right balance between not enough regulation and too much? The regulatory pendulum swings back and forth depending on whether Democrats or Republicans are in power. The Trump administration took unprecedented steps to slow the pace of new regulations and revisit old ones, and no doubt got rid of numerous outdated and overly onerous rules. But some critics say he pushed that pendulum too far.
Normally, the career professionals at government agencies such as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration or the Department of Labor do the heavy lifting of writing regulations. These people typically have a good understanding of the complex industries they regulate. New regulations go through a lengthy process involving cost-benefit analyses, scientific studies, proposals, and public comment periods. But under the Trump administration, the politically appointed heads of many agencies were criticized for rushing the process and not listening to those career experts.
For an example, we’ll again look to EPA emissions regulations. The 2000s-era emissions problems led to an increase in the use of glider kits. Originally intended to provide a way for truck owners to refurbish a crashed truck that still had a usable powertrain, gliders increasingly were used as a way to keep using the older, more dependable, more fuel-efficient (but higher-polluting) engines.
In 2017, the agency proposed a regulation that would remove restrictions on glider kits from new greenhouse gas emissions rules. The move, apparently in response to a petition from a glider kit manufacturer, was criticized for ignoring the EPA’s own research in favor of a Tennessee Tech study funded by the glider maker but later discredited. The EPA’s inspector general’s office later slammed the rulemaking, saying it “lacked transparency and deprived the public of required information,” and that it “failed to develop required cost and benefit analyses and to assess air quality impacts on children’s health.” That proposal never made it into a final rule.
Even some you might expect to welcome deregulation have pushed back. Again looking to emissions regulations for an example, this time on the automotive side, the Trump administration proposed to weaken federal fuel economy regulations, combined with a legal challenge to California’s ability to set its own environmental rules. Some automakers supported Trump’s efforts. But many did not, and made a deal with California to meet standards lower than the Obama administration rules but more aggressive than the Trump proposal. Ford even said this agreement should be a blueprint for new rules under the new Biden-Harris administration.
Under the new administration, we’ll see the regulatory pendulum swing the other way. As other administrations have done before, the Biden-Harris transition team said one of its first actions would be to halt or delay “midnight regulations” – actions taken by the Trump administration that will have not yet taken effect by inauguration day. But no matter which way the pendulum is swinging, the regulatory process still allows each and every one of us to provide input in the form of comments on proposed rules. Watch Truckinginfo.com for news on proposed regulations and how you can make your voice heard.