Environmentalists, industry debate proposed new federal clean-truck rules

Environmentalists and trucking industry representatives clashed Tuesday at an all-day hearing in Long Beach on the federal government’s next regulatory phase of diesel truck emissions, which experts say account for 20 percent of greenhouse gases.

With government regulators listening intently, California officials called the emission reduction targets for medium and heavy-duty trucks too lenient, while industry leaders complained they are too restrictive and poorly thought out.

Their arguments were delivered in back-to-back public hearings on the 629-page proposed law drafted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation. The rule, in short, is considered “phase two” of the environmental initiative launched in 2010 by President Barack Obama.

Rep. Grace Napolitano, whose district includes much of the San Gabriel Valley, spoke in favor of stricter rules that would lead to a 40 percent reduction of 2010-level vehicle emissions by 2025.

“My district has the major impact of traffic because I have the Alameda Corridor East and I also have the truck traffic on the 60, 10 and 210 freeways,” Napolitano said. “So you understand that I … want to reduce emissions.

“We, in Washington, have fought the idea of climate change. I have my colleagues tell me there’s no such thing. Well, unfortunately we’re going to have to understand that we do have issues to address. How are we opening the door for information that will help us look at new technology? How do we help those unable financially to purchase the new trucks?”

She said a trucking company in her district would have to pay an additional $40,000 per vehicle to meet the new requirements, and suggested government subsidies be enacted.

“We have led the way but we want to make sure other states understand this is their problem, too,” Napolitano said.

The communities in and around the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are known as part of a ‘cancer corridor’ largely because of high rates of diesel truck emissions. The South Coast Air Quality Management District said in a 2014 study that the toxic emissions from port trucks account for 90 percent of hazardous air vapors there.

Federal officials, who consulted hundreds of industry representatives while developing the plan over the past two years, asked specifically for public comment Tuesday on whether to strengthen or reduce their proposed regulations.

California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols said the suggested implementation is too slow and emission targets are too low to maintain safe ozone levels in the state and protect the world from a fast-warming climate. It would impact medium and heavy-duty trucks from model years 2021 to 2027. The plan also doesn’t do enough to hurry investment in low- and zero-emissions technologies, she said. Her agency worked closely with federal officials to inform the technical analyses behind the proposed law.

“This is a good start,” Nichols said. “The proposal, however, misses some critical opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions earlier and to spur development of advanced, low- and zero-emissions technologies.”

Poisonous nitrous oxides should be dramatically reduced from the suggested limit, and the EPA’s Clean Power Plan released last month should stand as a “shining example” of the direction the law should take, she said.

Engineers and scientists behind this proposal say it will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 1 billion metric tons by 2027, and cut U.S. oil consumption by up to 1.8 billion barrels over the next dozen years. U.S. companies could save $170 billion on fuel costs through the increased fuel efficiency demands.

“That’s a win-win-win,” the Pew Charitable Trusts said in a statement encouraging adoption of a more stringent version of the law.

But trucking industry representatives say they’re worried the law, while well-intentioned, could lead to unintended consequences by tying the hands of business owners. Indeed, when the first diesel regulations were enacted five years ago, a surge in “glider kits” — new trucks built around old engines — developed to circumvent the expensive new regulations.

Mike O’Connell, senior fleet supply chain director for PepsiCo-Frito-Lay, said companies should be given flexibility in deciding how to reduce their emissions, rather than being forced to increase their investment in advanced technologies.

“We’ve still got to meet the real-world business terms,” O’Connell said in a briefing before Tuesday’s hearing. “There’s not any one right solution for all of them.”

Frito-Lay trucks, for example, are light compared with Pepsi trucks and would be less efficient if the company had to use electric vehicles, he said: “It’s really about the drive cycle and a balanced approach.”

In some cases, he said, truckers simply need to lessen their idling times and improve their driving habits to increase fuel efficiency.

O’Connell said the industry is extremely nervous about the reliability and durability of new energy technology, and is concerned about changing gears so quickly as the country heads into a new election cycle that could bring policy reversals.

Environmentalists and health officials argued that there is no room to go easy on the new standards.

“California truly needs zero-emissions technologies,” said American Lung Association Policy Manager Will Barrett. “Los Angeles metro area is one of the most polluted in particles and ozone and it threatens the health of all people in the region.”

Tuesday’s hearing was the second of two nationwide — the first was Aug. 6 in Chicago — as federal regulators seek public comment before writing a final law. The public comment period ends Sept. 11. Comments can be made online at www.regulations.gov or via email at a-and-r-docket@epa.gov.

By Sandy Mazza, Daily Breeze: Click here for original article