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Heavy-Duty Vehicle Standards and the Industry Lobby

May 3, 2024 | Blog |

This spring has been a momentous time for climate solutions, with the Environmental Protection Agency announcing the final versions of standards that will reduce pollution from light-duty vehicles (like cars and SUVs), heavy-duty vehicles, methane pollution from the oil and gas industry, and other hazardous air pollutants. These standards help protect our communities, public health, and our Sacred Earth. Specifically, heavy-duty vehicle standards –which apply to delivery trucks, refuse haulers, public utility trucks, transit buses, school buses, tractor trailers, and more– have an outsized impact on air pollution across the country. This blog post will help explain the critical significance of these standards as well as the industry forces lobbying to weaken the standards at the expense of our health and Shared Home.

Medium- and heavy-duty vehicles make up the backbone of our economy, delivering goods and services across the country every day. Unfortunately, the majority of these vehicles are dirty, polluting, and expensive to maintain. While heavy-duty vehicles make up just four percent of the vehicles now on the road, they generate more than 25 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. This pollution is concentrated in areas near major roadways, trucking corridors, and ports, where communities of color and low-wealth communities are more likely to reside. In general, the American Lung Association reports that “a person of color is 61 percent more likely than a white person to live in a community impacted by unhealthy air and 3.6 times more likely to live in a community with the most unhealthy air in the United States.” Strong vehicle standards are a matter of environmental justice, and these standards will deliver massive emission reductions and life-saving relief to everyone, especially frontline communities.

In addition, moving toward zero-emissions medium- and heavy-duty trucks will be key to improving air quality and saving lives across the nation. In 2022, more than 137 million American residents lived in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution. In particular, diesel exhaust contains more than 40 known cancer-causing organic substances. These pollutants disproportionately impact vulnerable groups, such as children, older adults, pregnant individuals, and people living with respiratory conditions including COPD and asthma. 

On March 29th, EPA announced the newest set of heavy-duty vehicle standards, which covers model years 2027 through 2032. These standards will help reduce health-harming and climate-warming pollution from the heavy-duty sector — putting us on the path to a zero-emission transportation future. The new cleaner trucks standards will reduce climate pollution and protect public health. The new standards will achieve a substantial 1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas reduction from 2027–2055, $13 billion in annualized net benefits through 2055, and 53 thousand tons of annualized nitrogen oxide pollution reduction by 2055.

While we applaud the consistent efforts of the Administration to move us toward a better climate future, IPL believes we can go further in our commitments to protect all people and our Sacred Earth. The oil industry and the trucking industry’s main trade group, the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA), have continued to try to weaken EPA’s pollution standards on heavy-duty trucks, despite the EMA signing an agreement with California regulators to comply with the state’s stronger-than-federal plan to get more electric trucks on the road. Over the last year, EMA advocated to weaken numerous key aspects of EPA’s proposed heavy-duty standards. In their June 2023 comments to EPA, the association said that the standards were “arbitrary, capricious and wholly unreasonable.” 

However, there is nothing more unreasonable than putting profit over people and sacrificing our communities for the bottom line. The EMA also advised the EPA to reopen and reduce the ambition of the phase 2 standards, which covered model years 2017 to 2027. Similarly, Daimler Truck and the Volvo Group pushed for a delay of the standards and –together with the American Petroleum Institute, whose lobbying remains staunchly negative–  a reduction in the rule’s stringency. Following this lobbying, EPA did weaken the rule, creating loopholes that unfairly benefit the oil & gas industry and truck manufacturers at the expense of our communities and Sacred Earth. 

On the positive side, more than 100 influential businesses, fleet operators, utilities, and investors, including Siemens, ABB, Verizon and Best Buy, united to support the strongest proposed greenhouse pollution standards for heavy-duty vehicles. These companies collectively operate more than 2.5 million fleet vehicles to deliver goods across the country. 

Overall, heavy-duty vehicle standards are a critical part of the regulatory landscape that helps us meet our climate goals and protect our communities. Robust standards will also help put us on the path to zero-emissions transportation, and we as people of faith and conscience have a moral opportunity to work for environmental justice and equity in implementation for the sake of our communities and Sacred Earth. We must continue our work toward eliminating harmful loopholes and undue industry influence in favor of just, fair, and feasible heavy-duty standards that work for everyone. One tangible way to do that is through state-based Advanced Clean Truck (ACT) standards, which have been signed by 11 states and counting. The more states that adopt ACT, the cleaner our air is across the country. See IPL’s recent statement about the new truck standards here, and click here to access our library of past EV webinars.

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