Mar 29, 2024 - Energy & Environment

EPA imposes "stringent" emissions curbs on heavy trucks

Illustration of the words CO2 behind cut out of a sky by a pair of scissors

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday finalized landmark new tailpipe standards for heavy trucks, another prong in the Biden administration's push to slash emissions on the roads.

Why it matters: Semi-trucks, school buses and other big trucks are major polluters that will be crucial to decarbonizing transportation, the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Driving the news: The new rule for model years 2027-2032 allows manufacturers to use a variety of technologies to reduce emissions in their fleets, including electric vehicles, hybrids and hydrogen fuel cells.

  • The agency says the plan will avoid 1 billion tons of emissions and save truck operators money in the long run.
  • It comes after EPA last week finalized new standards for cars, SUVs and light trucks for 2027 to 2032.

Zoom in: The agency is predicting a wide variety of impacts, since the rule covers eight different classes of heavy vehicles.

  • The heaviest trucks likely won't be more than 20 percent zero emissions until 2040, per an EPA official, while lighter classes could see higher ZEV penetration.
  • The plan also allows more time in the late 2020s for technological development and deployment of charging infrastructure compared with EPA's initial proposal last spring.
  • But EPA Administrator Michael Regan told reporters the final rule is "more stringent than what was proposed from an environmental standpoint."

The big picture: The rules are intended to work with other efforts to cut emissions from shipping and heavy freight and build out charging infrastructure.

  • There's a whole bunch of funding on the table to clean up heavy freight via the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, including a large tax credit for the purchase of commercial clean vehicles.
  • California has also moved to electrify heavy trucks by the mid-2030s.

Yes, but: Electric heavy trucks are a small share of the market today, and there currently isn't much charging infrastructure to support a whole bunch of electric trucks.

  • The future of the hydrogen industry is also in flux and dependent on federal incentives.

What's next: Hill Republicans immediately launched an effort to nix the emissions rules for cars and light trucks. Expect the same here, and potential lawsuits from red states.

  • For now, those efforts are largely symbolic. But a time-consuming fight in Congress is likely to ensue, becoming another election-year wedge issue.
  • Like the car standards, this rule isn't a mandate for electric trucks, but that's potentially how Republicans will frame it ahead of November.
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