California could use ‘backdoor’ to kickstart the end of diesel trucks in the US, experts say

Daily Caller News Foundation

  • A set of proposed rules by the California state government could kickstart the end of new diesel-powered heavy-duty vehicles nationwide, thanks to a regulatory “backdoor,” experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation Monday.
  • The Biden administration is set to provide California with a waiver for its new rules, allowing it to enforce stricter guidelines than what were set out in the federal Clean Air Act, The Washington Post reported.
  • “Our industry hopes these reports aren’t true,” President and CEO Chris Spear of the American Trucking Association told the DCNF in a statement.

California’s proposed rules to dramatically limit emissions from heavy-duty vehicles could effectively result in a nationwide ban on the sale of new diesel-powered heavy-duty vehicles, thanks to a “backdoor” in the Clean Air Act, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation Monday.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will approve California’s proposed rules, which would obligate all new heavy-duty vehicles — including shipping trucks and delivery vans — sold in the state after 2045 be fully electric or hydrogen-powered, The Washington Post reported Monday, citing three individuals familiar with the agency’s plans. New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Massachusetts, Washington and Vermont have all committed to following California’s lead on this issue, a move which experts told the DCNF was tantamount to a nationwide ban.

“It’s a way to backdoor allow — under the auspices of the Clean Air Act — for California that set standards for the U.S.,” Dan Kish, senior fellow at the Institute for Energy Research, said to the DCNF.

California’s rules would be significantly stricter than federal regulations under the Clean Air Act, and enforcing them requires the EPA grant the state a special waiver, the Post reported. The state will introduce stricter emissions standards to all heavy-duty vehicles starting with model year 2024, three years earlier than the Biden administration’s most recent rules, which take effect in model year 2027.

Together, California and the six states that are expected to follow in its lead represent some 20% of all heavy-duty vehicle sales in the U.S., the Post reported. Heavy-duty electric trucks accounted for just 2.7% of all in the U.S. as of May 2022, according to analytics firm Wood Mackenzie.

“This is a unique provision in federal law that allows one single state, of course it’s a big, powerful state, California, with its markets, to to essentially dictate the regulation of interstate commerce for other states,” Steven Bradbury, a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation and former lawyer for both the Trump and George W. Bush administrations, told the DCNF in an interview. “If just California alone is allowed to enforce these requirements, that would be enough to push the entire market … in that direction … because these companies cannot build different sets of trucks for different regions of the country. It just doesn’t make sense.”

The Biden administration has made electric vehicles a core component of its strategy for the U.S. to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association, which represents a coalition of more than 30 truck and bus manufacturers, has argued that the new rules would force manufacturers to delay the purchase of new vehicles due to increased costs for electronic heavy-duty vehicles, according to the Post. In turn, this would incentivize truckers to leave less efficient cars on the road for longer, hindering the environmental benefits, the group argues.

“Our industry hopes these reports aren’t true,” President and CEO Chris Spear of the American Trucking Association told the DCNF in a statement. Spear stressed that the industry had reduced emissions by 98% since 1998, and that it had worked closely with the EPA to develop “aggressive, achievable” emissions reductions timelines for decades.

“If the reports are in fact accurate, let us remind you that this isn’t the United States of California,” said Spear. “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.”

Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom of California took to Twitter Monday to praise the state’s “bold action” to “lead the way” on this issue, following the Post’s report.

“Heavy-duty trucks account for nearly a third of harmful air pollutants. We need bold action,” said Newsom in a tweet. “[California] will once again lead the way — phasing out the use of diesel-powered trucks.”

After California implemented rules in 2022 to end the sale of gas-powered cars in the state by 2035, both the state of Washington and the European Union followed suit, implementing similar rules that ended the sale of new gas cars. The new regulations on heavy-duty vehicles are expected to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by more than 307 million tons by 2050, the Post reported, citing state estimates.

While the exact timeframe for when the waivers will be approved is unknown, an EPA spokesperson told the Post that the agency was working “as expeditiously as possible” to make decisions on all waivers currently under consideration.

Neither the EPA nor Newsom’s office immediately responded to a DCNF request for comment.

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