Truckmakers fight climate rules while touting an electric future


Under pressure to phase out diesel-powered trucks, major manufacturers offered numerous assurances. Volvo plans to be ‘fossil-free’ by 2040 and boasted in its latest annual report that it is ‘leading the transformation’ of the industry. Daimler Truck, the world’s largest heavy-duty truck manufacturer, has set a goal of selling only carbon-neutral trucks and buses in the United States, Europe and Japan by 2039.

But behind the scenes, truck industry lobbyists are working to delay that clean truck future. The Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association, which represents the nation’s largest truck manufacturers, has lobbied to weaken tougher federal rules limiting global-warming gases and other pollutants. The industry also led a campaign against a new California rule, adopted by five other states, that would force manufacturers to sell more zero-emission trucks.

If truckmakers win, environmentalists say, they will be able to continue selling diesel vehicles for longer, delaying the transition to electric power.

“What we see from their lobbying is that they want to engage as little as possible,” said Dave Cooke, senior vehicle analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The promises in the press releases don’t mean anything. They may say we set a goal, we spend money, but it doesn’t have to produce results.

As the push to convert America’s passenger cars to electricity gathers pace, the same transition for medium and heavy trucks has just begun. Truckmakers say they can only move as quickly as the market allows, while environmentalists counter that these companies have already waited too long to electrify and will continue to drag their feet without strict deadlines.

Policymakers are targeting the sector because it accounts for nearly a quarter of all vehicular greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and generates harmful pollutants that cost thousands of lives every year. A recent report by the American Lung Association estimates that switching to zero-emission trucks would prevent 66,800 premature deaths over the next 30 years.

Truckmakers and their lobbyists say they see no disconnect between their public and private actions.

Dawn Fenton, vice president of government relations and public affairs for Volvo Group North America, said the company is “very committed to achieving 100% fossil fuel free by 2040.”

But she said government mandates failed to take into account supply chain issues, the lack of a national charging network and the fact that electric trucks are too expensive for some buyers. Volvo recently announced a deal to sell 20 heavy-duty electric trucks to Amazon, and the company plans to complete an electric truck charging corridor in California by next year. But, Fenton added, “there are so many things we have no control over.”

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Under President Biden, the Environmental Protection Agency began working on rules to reduce pollution and global warming emissions from trucks, buses and delivery vans. The first, which is expected to be finalized by the end of the year, would toughen truck pollution limits for the first time since 2001 and tighten current greenhouse gas standards. The second rule would lower greenhouse gas limits from the 2030 model year, accelerating the transition to all-electric trucks.

Truckmakers and their lobbyists have repeatedly met with EPA officials to push back, urging them to adopt a less stringent standard for lung-damaging nitrogen dioxide. They argued that the agency’s proposal requiring them to reduce nitrogen dioxide by 90% by 2031 would be too costly, diverting money from their electrification plans. They also warned that this standard would increase the cost of trucks, forcing buyers to delay new purchases and leaving older, dirtier diesel vehicles on the road for years.

The industry seems to be progressing in Washington. The EPA’s proposal is weaker than California’s new emissions rule, which requires manufacturers to start rolling out cleaner trucks from 2024. And climate advocates have complained it wouldn’t do much to accelerate electrification. because it only requires certain classes of vehicles – primarily school and transit buses, commercial delivery trucks, and short-haul tractors – to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

And while Truckmakers say they need to focus their attention and money on electrifying their fleets, they’re fighting regulations that would hasten that change.

In 2020, California air quality regulators passed landmark regulations requiring more than half of all trucks sold in the state to be zero emissions by 2035. It was the first rule of its kind in the United States and, to enforce it, state leaders need a waiver from the EPA allowing them to set stricter exhaust rules than the federal government.

The Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association challenged the state’s waiver request, arguing that it does not give manufacturers enough time. The group represents around thirty truck and bus manufacturers, including major players such as Daimler Truck, Volvo, Paccar, Navistar and Cummins, a diesel engine manufacturer.

“It’s hard for me to square the lobbying of these companies and their association versus what they’re saying,” said Margo Oge, an electric vehicle expert who headed the Office of Transportation and Quality the Environmental Protection Agency from 1994 to 2012. “Already we see many models of heavy-duty trucks and electric buses. We’ve come a long way from the industry complaining at this point .

Some of the companies opposed to the state’s electrification goals have taken money from its zero-emissions incentive programs, according to the California Air Resources Board, the state’s air quality regulator. ‘State. Since 2017, Volvo has accepted about $122 million from the board to develop electric trucks and buses. Daimler had received $100.5 million. Both companies have battery-powered trucks for sale in the United States, with plans to develop hydrogen fuel cell trucks that can travel longer distances in the next few years.

Congress has also taken steps to strengthen the market, providing a $40,000 tax credit for electric and hydrogen trucks and buses in the recently passed Cut Inflation Act.

“They’re trying to get butter and butter money,” Adrian Martinez, a lawyer with environmental law firm Earthjustice, said of the truck manufacturers. “They’re fighting regulations to mandate the technology, and then they’re also trying to get pats on the back for developing it.”

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Jed Mandel, president of the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association, said turning California’s dream of zero-emission trucks into reality is more complicated than state regulators recognize.

“Our concerns relate to the design” of the new rule, he said, noting that it sets sales requirements for manufacturers for a range of vehicles, from 18-wheeler trucks to school buses and delivery vans. . The regulations require truck manufacturers to sell a greater percentage of zero-emission vehicles each year, ultimately meeting a goal of selling all-electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. trucks by 2045.

“To California’s credit, they’ve invested a lot in infrastructure and incentives,” Mandel said, but electric trucks are still significantly more expensive than diesels. The problem, he said, is “there’s no obligation for anyone to buy them.”

California regulators hope to stimulate the market by making diesel-powered trucks obsolete. Later this month, the board is expected to consider a proposal to phase out diesel truck sales by 2040. Other states are likely to follow.

But the truck manufacturers’ lobby group has tried to discourage other states from following California’s lead, telling other environmental regulators to refrain.

“Rushing to adopt California’s rules in New Jersey will result in major unintended negative consequences that will harm the economy, the environment, and delay, not advance, New Jersey’s goals,” the EMA wrote. and other industry groups last year in New Jersey. Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette.

New Jersey eventually adopted California’s clean truck rule, as did Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and Washington. Together, these states account for about 20% of the country’s medium and heavy truck market.

But other states have chosen to oppose it, at least for now.

In Maine, where the Environmental Protection Council was considering adopting California’s truck electrification rule late last year, fleet owners and other opponents have raised enough concerns to derail the process. “At this time, we have no plans for any future regulations,” Lynne Cayting, the state’s office of air quality officer, said in an email.

Later this fall, the EPA is expected to decide whether to allow California to enforce its new truck rules. This could trigger a messy court battle with truck manufacturers, which could have unintended consequences. California air regulators have said if industry undermines this policy, they should crack down harder on air pollution — perhaps with an even more aggressive electrification mandate.

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