Trucking Executive Panel Objects to EPA Fuel Economy Rollback Plan

May 02, 2018 by John O'Dell

“Stay the course” is the message a panel of leading clean vehicle developers, users and regulators delivered Tuesday in the wake of the Trump Administration’s plan to roll back tough fuel economy and emissions regulations developed under former President Barak Obama.

Speakers at a “global trends” panel – representatives of UPS, Navistar, Cummins, Honda and the California Air Resources Board – repeatedly said that they would prefer the single national emissions standard promulgated under the previous administration remains in effect. The discussion took place at the 2018 ACT Expo green transport conference in Long Beach, Calif.

California and 16 other states announced just before the panel began that they have jointly sued the federal Environmental Protection Agency over EPA Administrator Scott Pruett’s decision to roll back standards for vehicles built from 2022 through 2025 on the basis that they are too difficult for automakers to achieve.

The decision is not yet final.

One effect of a rollback would be to “arbitrarily and capriciously” cancel an agreement California and the environmental agency hashed out several years ago to harmonize their emissions standards so car and truck makers wouldn’t have to deal with two conflicting sets of rules.

Federal law allows California to set its own air quality standards if they are tougher than federal standards. It also permits other states to adopt California’s standards. So far, 13 states and the District of Columbia have done so. The so-called California emissions states are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

In the suit, the states claim the EPA acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in deciding to weaken the existing standards.

Panelists at the ACT Expo event said they would prefer a single standard for both emissions and fuel efficiency. The consensus seemed to be that Pruett’s reversal of course wouldn’t hold up.

“We have invested millions and we continue to invest” in clean technologies aimed at meeting the Obama-era standards, said Steve Gilligan, vice president of product marketing for Navistar.

“We assume we will stay the course,” he said.

California intends to pursue air quality regulation as if the Obama-era rules remain in place, said Annalisa Bevan, assistant chief of the state air board’s automotive emissions compliance division. The EPA administrator’s decision “takes us off course and we need a clear vision and direction [and] it’s disastrous to get off that course,” she said.

Bevans’ reading of California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichol’s comments on the lawsuit drew enthusiastic applause from an audience made up largely of trucking company and truck and engine manufacturing executives and clean truck technology and fuel developers.

Nichols said Pruett’s decision to roll back emissions and fuel efficiency standards made “a mockery” of the EPA decision process, was not evidence-based, heralded “destruction of the one-plan” agreement between California and the EPA and “wiped away years of analysis with the stroke of a pen.”

Having to comply with more than one set of rules “adds complexity and costs and drives uncertainty,” said Julie Furber, executive director of electrification at truck engine development giant Cummins Inc.

“Absolutely,” added James Burrell, assistant vice president of American Honda’s advanced powertrain group.

The states that have adopted California rules represent close to half of Honda’s U.S. sales, he said, adding that car companies need a single standard in order to determine which technologies to pursue and to keep a lid on development costs, which are passed through to customers.

While the immediate effect of the EPA decision will hit the passenger car industry first, the truck industry is regulated by the same agencies and ultimately is affected by what happens on the automotive front.

As a major consumer of the clean emissions products truck and engine manufacturers put into the market, UPS wants the consistency that comes with a single, 50-state emissions and fuel economy standard, said Tamara Baker, chief sustainability officer and vice president of environmental affairs for the delivery industry giant.

The suit and possible repercussions of the EPA rollback plan weren’t the only topic the panel tackled:

• Panel members agreed that there is not yet a consensus on which technology or technologies will be best for a low and no-emissions future for the trucking industry. “We have to explore, test, fail sometimes and move on,” Baker said, adding that while costly and time consuming, the process is seen by UPS as necessary to achieve needed improvements.

• Online purchasing is driving a huge increase in the demand for trucking, and younger people – prime online shoppers – are flocking back to city centers. The confluence creates more need for clean emissions technologies to minimize the impact of delivery vehicle trips. “Developing clean solutions for our customers” is a “passion project” at Cummins, Furber said.

• Increasing truck safety, with active and passive systems including those that can do some of the driver’s behind-the-wheel tasks – such as lane centering and vehicle following – is critical and will be an area that drives truck design and development, said Navistar’s Gilligan.

• While regulation is a big driver of technology advances, it is not all driven by rules. “We get inquiries from our largest customers constantly about doing their deliveries with low and zero emission vehicles,” Baker said.

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