EPA revokes California light-duty GHG rules

By Mike Kastner,  NTEA Managing Director
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This article was published in the November 2019 edition of NTEA News.

In September, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized and published The Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule Part One: One National Program.

This rule on fuel economy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standards for automobiles and light-duty trucks makes clear there should be one national and uniform regulation concerning tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions standards and zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandates. In the rule, NHTSA also affirms its sole authority to set national fuel economy standards.

The rule revokes the preemption waiver previously granted to California, allowing it to set regulations on GHG and ZEV for cars and light-duty trucks. California and numerous other states and cities filed suit challenging the EPA and NHTSA action the next day following publication.

While the new rule does not affect medium and heavy truck Phase 2 GHG and fuel efficiency regulations approved by EPA and NHTSA, the precedent could ultimately benefit truck manufacturers seeking to build engines and vehicles to one national standard in the future.

NTEA supports the concept of national and uniform regulations for vocational trucks.

California waiver
When Congress originally passed Clean Air Act (in the 1960s), California was already implementing statewide regulations to address its significant and unique smog problem. As such, Congress felt it appropriate to allow California to have separate emissions regulations, but wanted to prevent a patchwork of differing state regulations (typically, federal regulations would preempt state). Congress thus created the California waiver program, where the state could petition EPA for a waiver, under specified circumstances, to allow emission regulations that differ from federal ones. Subsequently, courts have allowed other states to opt-in to California standards, but they must do so completely and without any changes.

Later, for energy conservation, not environmental reasons, corporate average fuel economy passenger car standards were created by Congress to be administered by NHTSA. There is no similar waiver program for fuel efficiency regulations.

Medium and heavy truck regulations
In 2011, EPA and NHTSA jointly issued the first GHG emissions and fuel economy standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks (Phase 1) for model years 2014–2018. In 2016, EPA and NHTSA jointly finalized Phase 2 standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles for 2021–2027 model years.

California promulgated similar regulations on trucks, and OEMs have not sought any rollback of Phase 2 GHG regulations. There is a concern that an upcoming 2024 California regulation on nitrous oxide (NOx) truck emissions would result in differing federal and state regulations.

New California laws
In September, California Governor Newsom signed two bills into law to further reduce criteria pollutant and GHG emissions from trucks and other medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.

SB 210, Clean Trucks, Clean Air, requires California Air Resources Board (CARB) to develop and implement an inspection and maintenance program for in-use heavy-duty trucks (over 14,000 pounds gross vehicle weight rating) to reduce emissions of particulate matter and NOx into the air — basically, a smog check program.

The other new law, SB 44, calls for CARB to implement a more comprehensive plan to reduce GHGs from medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. According to the new law, “Actions to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions may include, but are not limited to, vehicle replacement, improved engine efficiency, fuels replacement, mode shifting, and operational efficiencies, including changes to vehicle deployment schedules.”

NTEA will continue to monitor judicial and regulatory actions on GHG and fuel efficiency standards. Legal challenges to the California waiver revocation will not likely be completed prior to the 2020 presidential election. The outcome of the election may determine whether or not One National Program will remain in place, irrespective of judicial challenges.

Learn more at ntea.com/advocacy