Washington Insider
EPA’s fuel economy invasion

By Ryan Bowley, OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs

One of the biggest debates in Washington during the late 1970s was over whether the Department of Transportation or the Environmental Protection Agency would control fuel economy regulations under the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (also known as CAFE) program.

Eventually Congress gave the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration the authority over CAFE, but kept EPA involved with a supporting role. 

The past few years, however, have seen this structure flipped on its head, with the EPA taking the lead in setting fuel economy standards and NHTSA’s role now little more than an afterthought.

How did things get to this point and, most importantly, what does it mean for truckers?

The foundation for this change was built in 2007, under a U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Massachusetts v. EPA. Massachusetts, along with other states and outside groups, sued EPA in response to a decision that the agency lacked authority to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) like carbon dioxide from motor vehicles under the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act, or CAA, is the EPA’s regulatory authority for air pollutants. Past examples of CAA-based regulation include the 2004 through 2010 diesel engine emissions rules.

The Supreme Court decided that the CAA was broad enough that EPA’s prior determination not to regulate motor vehicle GHG emissions was incorrect. Under this decision, carbon dioxide, the same gas we exhale with every breath, was to be regulated the same way as particulate matter, nitrous oxides and sulfur oxides.

Days before Christmas in 2007, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act, also known as EISA. EISA included a requirement that automobile fuel economy rise by 2020. It also required the first-ever set of heavy-duty truck fuel economy regulations.

Fast forward to 2010 and a memorandum from the president that directed EPA and NHTSA to work together “to produce a new generation of clean vehicles.”

This officially brought EPA in as an equal partner with NHTSA in regulating motor vehicle emissions and fuel economy. Political considerations in Washington would lead to an unofficial reality: EPA’s focus on reducing GHG emissions now trumps NHTSA’s decades of experience under CAFE. Instead of supporting NHTSA or being an equal partner, EPA makes the policy and NHTSA is forced to implement it.

The fall of 2011 saw the results as the heavy-duty truck regulation was issued. Despite calls from OOIDA and truckers, EPA took a one-size-fits-all approach, leading to mandates for costly add-ons, including low-rolling-resistance tires and aerodynamic designs for virtually all trucks. Those mandates will add an additional $6,200 to the price of a new truck in 2014.

As soon as this year, EPA will begin work on their next round of regulations, with NHTSA being pulled along for the ride. This round of rules is likely to be even more costly and have an even greater impact on your bottom line as a small-business trucker. This is because EPA under the CAA does not need to consider the impacts of their regulations on the economy or on how they will affect your business. The targets they set for reducing emissions are all that are important.

The next round of rules will call for greater emissions reductions beyond the 20 percent mandated in the first rule. This will require EPA to look at not only the tractor, but also the trailer, meaning mandatory side skirts and possible restrictions on what trailers can be pulled with certain truck models.

OOIDA is working hard to stop EPA’s invasion into heavy-duty truck fuel economy – an invasion that leads to higher prices for trucks and to significant impacts on your ability to compete against the large trucking fleets. By understanding how this invasion happened, you too can talk to lawmakers in Washington about how an agency with no background in trucking and no desire to understand trucking should not be playing the lead role in regulating trucking. LL