Trump’s EPA to Propose Tougher Big-Rig Pollution Rules, Source Says

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is planning a new push to slash pollution from heavy duty trucks, a move that took by surprise some clear-air advocates more accustomed to efforts by the Trump administration to weaken or eliminate environmental regulations.

“This may be the first rulemaking initiated by the Trump administration that is actually designed to reduce air pollution,” said Paul Billings, senior vice president for public policy at the American Lung Association.

Agency officials including Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler will announce details of the push, dubbed the "Cleaner Trucks Initiative" on Tuesday, the agency said in an email. It didn’t provide details of what it will propose.

The effort will target reductions of smog-forming nitrogen oxide, or "NOx," emissions from big rigs and their engines, according to a person familiar with the mater, who asked not to be identified discussing plans that are not yet public.

It will be the first attempt to update the EPA’s NOx standards for heavy-duty trucks in nearly two decades and comes after a series efforts by the agency to ease or halt environmental rules. The shift in policy also comes as California clean-air regulators are developing tougher truck requirements of their own, and say nationwide rules are also needed to reduce pollution because a majority of miles driven by large trucks inside the state were purchased elsewhere.

Big-Rig Emissions

Industry and environmental groups alike expressed support for updating the standards, though clean-air advocates want to see details.

Jed Mandel, president of the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association said the proposal represents a chance to modernize how the agency oversees big-rig emissions, focusing more on real-world emissions than on laboratory tests to assess progress.

“We support the move toward looking at the program to ensure that we have better, more real-world focused emissions reductions,” said Mandel, whose association represents 30 heavy-duty engine and truck manufacturers including Cummins Inc., Navistar Inc. and Volvo AB.

Dave Cooke, a senior vehicles analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the push reflects a broad recognition that further reductions of NOx emissions are possible and future standards could better reflect true emissions levels on the road.

“This would be a welcome change of pace,” Cooke said in an email. “At the same time, I’m wary of such a pivot and am deeply skeptical of this administration’s ability to actually follow the science and publish a regulation in the best public interest.”

The Trump administration has moved to repeal or revise an array of environmental mandates, including many imposed under former President Barack Obama.

The EPA has proposed easing requirements for oil companies to detect and repair leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. It also has proposed scaling back Obama administration limits on greenhouse gas releases from power plants and freezing U.S. fuel-economy and tailpipe emissions requirements at the 2020 level of 37 miles per gallon, instead of rising to roughly 47 mpg by 2025.

A New Congress

The pivot to update the truck standards comes as Democrats in the House of Representatives prepare their agenda for the next Congress, where they’re expected to wield their newfound majority power to closely scrutinize Trump’s environmental rollbacks.

"With the Democrats taking over the House, and the potential for some actual oversight and accountability from Congress, EPA is feeling pressure to show that they are taking actions to protect the environment and save lives instead of what they’ve done under Trump to this point,” said Amit Narang, a regulatory policy expert at the watchdog Public Citizen.

Billings, of the Lung Association, said he was concerned that the EPA was still considering whether to re-instate a provision exempting so-called glider kits from emissions standards that apply to newly manufactured tractor-trailers. Gliders are new truck cabs and chassis that are fitted with used engines designed for older, less stringent pollution standards.

“The details are important and there are many questions,” he said.

The EPA in December 2016 said it would start working on new NOx standards for big trucks late in the Obama administration. That came after several state and county air-quality authorities urged the EPA earlier that year to toughen NOx standards for heavy-duty trucks that were last updated in 2000.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District, which covers the Los Angeles area, asked the EPA to issue rules reducing allowable NOx emissions by 90 percent from current levels. In granting the petition nearly two years ago, EPA said it could not commit to a specific level but agreed to begin preparing a notice of proposed rule-making.

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