Report: California will be allowed to set its own emissions limits

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Updated Mar 24, 2023

According to a report from The Washington Post Monday, the Biden administration is set to approve new rules in California designed to cut tailpipe emissions and phase out sales of heavy-duty diesel trucks. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to The Post – citing three anonymous sources briefed on the administration's plans – intends to grant “waivers” enabling California to enforce environmental regulations tougher than federal requirements and regulations already approved by the state.

American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear released a statement Monday evening expressing disappointment, citing that the trucking industry "worked tirelessly with EPA on aggressive, achievable timelines for emissions reductions over decades," he said. â€śOur industry hopes these reports aren’t true."

EPA in December updated emission standards for heavy-duty commercial vehicles for the 2027 model year, tightening tailpipe NOx limits to a level 80%-plus below the current standard and reducing the particulate matter limit by 50%. The agency also will require that OEMs extend warranties to 450,000 miles from 100,000 and useful life limits to 650,000 miles from 435,000 miles. The new EPA standards require heavy-duty commercial vehicles to limit nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions to 0.035 grams per horsepower-hour during normal operation, 0.050 grams at low load, and 10.0 grams at idle, and will also increase the useful life of governed vehicles by 1.5 to 2.5 times and yield emissions warranties that are 2.8 to 4.5 times longer – provisions that guarantee that as vehicles age, they will continue to meet EPA’s more stringent emissions standards for a longer period of time.

[Related: California zero emission regs 'unachievable,' guaranteed to fail]

California has also set truck OEMs on a path that reinvents truck sales in the state, mandating all heavy trucks sold in the state be either electric or hydrogen fuel-cell by 2045. If California-specific regulations indeed enact more strict emissions limits, it sets up an event horizon for trucking companies that do business in and through the state, as California seeks to start its even tighter emissions limits three model years sooner than EPA.

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The Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA) last August withdrew a lawsuit against the California Air Resources Board (CARB) intended to confirm that CARB is required to provide manufacturers at least four full model years of lead time before implementing new heavy-duty engine emission standards. 

"If the reports are in fact accurate, let us remind you that this isn't the United States of California. As we learned in the pandemic, the supply chain can be a fragile thing – and its integrity must be preserved at the national level," Spear said. "This decision has little to do with improving the environment, and everything to do with placating the far left of the environmental lobby without regard for the hard-working men and women of our industry or our country who will be left to implement California’s vision for America. 

“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 that deliver their groceries, clothes and goods, but they will certainly feel the pain when these fanciful projections lead to catastrophic disruptions well beyond California’s borders,” he added.

Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington and Vermont, generally considered "CARB states," are expected to follow California's lead in reducing EPA's emissions limits within the states. 

A group of Republican Senators, led by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Nebraska), in February introduced legislation that would overturn emissions standards on heavy-duty trucks.