CARB may be able to quickly squeeze heavy-truck emission limits yet tighter, explores HDT's Contributing Washington/Business Editor David Cullen in the Passing Zone column.  -  Graphic: HDT

CARB may be able to quickly squeeze heavy-truck emission limits yet tighter, explores HDT's Contributing Washington/Business Editor David Cullen in the Passing Zone column.

Graphic: HDT

If approved, a request by California to enact markedly stricter heavy-truck emissions standards than those set by the federal government will massively disrupt the already-fraught view trucking holds of the upcoming rules laid out by the Environmental Protection Agency.

This gorilla of a monkey wrench will vigorously shake the tightrope of a timeline that truck and engine manufacturers are navigating to ensure compliance with the new regulations while delivering the performance expected by fleets.

Disrupting the engineering already in motion by changing the rules this late in the game would ripple down the manufacturing supply chain to gum up the works. That would upset fleet plans to replace old trucks with new in the face of another pre-buy explosion.

It’s not a done deal, but news reports in the general media earlier this month strongly suggested that approval was imminent. Washington Post reporter Anna Phillips is credited with having broken the news on March 20. EPA “intends to grant California ‘waivers’ to enforce environmental rules that are significantly tougher than federal requirements and that state regulators have already approved,” she reported.

But wait, there’s more bad news. Whenever California secures waivers of preemption, per the California Air Resources Board, the federal Clean Air Act “allows other states that are or have been noncompliant with federal ambient air quality standards to adopt California’s standards as their own.”

To date, 13 states and the District of Columbia have adopted all or part of certain California emission standards.

Within three days of the Post story, the American Trucking Associations issued a blistering press release on the waiver request. ATA keyed in on how changing upcoming emissions rules now could derail the supply chain that drives truck production.

“Our industry hopes these reports aren’t true,” stated ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “The state and federal regulators collaborating on this unrealistic patchwork of regulations have no grasp on the real costs of designing, building, manufacturing, and operating the trucks… As we learned in the pandemic, the supply chain can be a fragile thing — and its integrity must be preserved at the national level.”

One day after ATA spoke out, word came that a new advocacy group of trucking stakeholders had been formed to “get to zero emissions in a responsible and feasible manner.” The Clean Freight Coalition consists of motor carriers, truck makers, and truck dealers. Its founding members include ATA, the Truckload Carriers Association, and the Truck & Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA).

The Clean Freight Coalition has twin interrelated goals: Advocate for public policies that transition toward a zero-emission future while assuring “affordable and reliable freight transportation and [protecting] the nation's supply chain.”

Perhaps the launch of CFC stemmed from last summer’s decision by EMA to withdraw its lawsuit against CARB that contended the agency did not provide enough lead time for truck and engine makers to meet its 2024 emission standards.

That EMA legal action had spurred substantial blowback by environmental groups and some of its own members, including Cummins, Ford, and GM, that publicly stated they did not support the litigation. For example, a joint letter sent by 34 regional and national environmental groups upbraided EMA’s member leadership, including the heads of Daimler Truck NA, Navistar, Paccar, and Volvo Group NA, for “harmful EMA lobbying and disinformation campaigns designed to slow or stall the transition to cleaner trucks.”

So, it would seem that the further development of engines and trucks to comply with 2024 and 2027 diesel emission standards is not likely to go as anyone has hoped. At this point, whether it will be a race back to the drawing boards or a steady push to the current finish line is anyone’s bet.

This commentary appears in the April 2023 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.

More from David Cullen's Passing Zone column: M&A in Trucking: A Tale of Two Year

About the author
David Cullen

David Cullen

[Former] Business/Washington Contributing Editor

David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.

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