'Destined to fail': Trucking sounds off to EPA on new Phase 3 greenhouse-gas regs

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Updated May 21, 2024

The Environmental Protection Agency this week held virtual public hearings related to its Phase 3 greenhouse gas emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks, unveiled last month. Among the dozens who testified during the hearings, trucking industry stakeholders were part of a small minority advocating for EPA to take a step back and reconsider the proposed standards that would take effect beginning with model-year 2027 trucks.

Part of EPA’s proposal is to electrify 25% of new long-haul trucks by 2032, as well as 35% of new short-haul regional tractors and 50% of vocational vehicles. The proposal also reopens the “Phase 2” GHG emissions regs to make them more stringent for MY 2027 trucks, and promulgates new emissions standards beginning with the 2028 model year.

Numerous commenters in favor of stricter emissions regulations on heavy-duty trucks and buses called on EPA to finalize “the strongest possible final rule,” as was said by the American Lung Association’s Paul Billings, by the end of this year.

Many commenters even called on the agency to reevaluate the rule in favor of even stricter standards than those proposed. One such commenter -- Thomas Boylan, regulatory director for the Zero Emission Transportation Administration trade group of EV manufacturers and suppliers -- hoped EPA would “finalize by the end of 2023 standards that are stronger than those proposed,” adding that EVs are currently available in all medium- and heavy-duty truck classes. Some even urged EPA to adopt regulations as stringent as California’s Advanced Clean Fleet rule, approved by the California Air Resources Board just last week.

Viewpoints from trucking and related groups, however, focused on infrastructure challenges when it comes to electric vehicle charging and/or fueling.

Jed Mandel, president of the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association, said his group fully supports EPA’s goals of reducing emissions, but added that the “challenge is not forcing the development of zero-emission vehicles, but in developing the infrastructure” required to operate them -- whether that’s electricity for charging electric trucks or hydrogen for fueling hydrogen fuel cell trucks. “Trucking fleets must see a positive business case to invest capital” into new technologies, he said, adding that fleets won’t purchase zero-emission trucks “if the infrastructure isn’t in place to operate them.”

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Representing the National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO) as well as the SIGMA association of fuel marketers, Theresa Cevidanes noted her organization’s skepticism that electricity providers and/or other infrastructure needs could be met in order to power the volume of ZEVs envisioned by the rule. She cited estimates that a single truck stop might demand as much electricity on a daily basis as a small town.

“We’re not convinced local electricity providers can service that load in 10 years’ time,” she said. She urged the administration to put forward more achievable goals in concert with expected market demand for ZEVs and, in the interim, raise standards for the use of renewable diesel and other biofuels to bridge the gap.

She asked EPA to use “strong incentives for renewable liquid fuels [and] raise the [renewable fuel] standards” for those fuels at the pump. The Phase 3 timelines simply “do not comport with the market’s expectations of reality,” she added, referencing extensive conversations with manufacturers and potential users of electric trucks about demand expectations. Costs and refueling needs to be a “serious” part of the discussion. “Conversations need to be tethered to an understanding” of all of that to make for a meaningful, achievable rule, she said. 

Truck manufacturers echoed those sentiments during testimony provided during the hearings. Sean Waters, vice president of product compliance and regulatory affairs for Daimler Trucks North America, said DTNA is “fully committed to supporting the ZEV market,” noting that the company already has ZEVs available. Waters noted, however, that to decarbonize the transportation industry, there must be products available to purchase, a positive total cost of ownership, and the infrastructure to support the products.

Waters said DTNA is “working hard to bring down the cost of the product to have a positive” ownership cost. What Daimler has found, however, is that “charging infrastructure is behind,” noting that emissions goals “are destined to fail until an emphasis is put on meeting the needs of the electric fleet.” He said it will take more than just the EPA and investments from private companies, states and the federal government to meet future infrastructure demands.

Kelly Bobek with Volvo Group North America, which has the most electric trucks on the road today, said “OEMs cannot do their part without assurances that charging station providers and utilities” can meet the needs of truck buyers. Bobek added that Volvo has seen that the lead time for the delivery of a battery-electric truck is shorter than the lead time for the installation of the infrastructure needed to charge the truck, which creates problems for the buyer.

Several representatives from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association testified during the hearings, including OOIDA Executive Vice President Lewie Pugh, who said he met with EPA leadership during the early stages of EPA’s Cleaner Trucks Initiative in 2018 and was promised that trucking would be part of the development of future emissions standards. “Unfortunately, five years later, here we are,” he said, with new proposed standards and without guidance from the trucking industry.  

Pugh added that the Phase 3 rule is “a blatant attempt to force consumers into purchasing electric vehicles while a national charging infrastructure network remains absent for heavy-duty commercial trucks.” He added that truck drivers are skeptical of electric trucks because of their costs, mileage limitations, weight and more. “It’s baffling that the EPA is pushing forward with more impractical emissions timelines without first addressing these overwhelming concerns with electric CMVs.”

OOIDA board member and small fleet owner Monte Wiederhold noted how past EPA regulations have made trucks more expensive to purchase and the engines less reliable with emissions control systems. “EPA refused to listen [to drivers]… and drivers lost their businesses and their livelihoods,” he said. “Now we’re told EVs are the way to go.”

Wiederhold also mentioned the weight considerations of battery-electric trucks and how the increased weight of batteries will reduce payload capacity for owner-operators and other carriers.

Patrick Kelly, senior director of fuel and vehicle policy for the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers group, brought up points raised by the American Transportation Research Institute in research released last year about the full lifecycle emissions of various zero-emission technologies. Kelly said “EVs utilize carbon emitted from the power sector,” noting that a ton of carbon has the same climate impact regardless of whether it’s emitted from a tailpipe (which the EPA rule is targeting) or elsewhere. Kelly, like ATRI’s research, noted that while battery-electric vehicles may not have tailpipe emissions, they do have significant emissions during production and recycling.

“The EPA should not finalize these standards,” he said. “The agency should repropose standards that allow fleets to choose” the type of technology they want to pursue to reduce emissions, “and not ignore the significant GHG emissions over the lifecycle” of BEVs.

ZEV manufacturer Nikola testified Wednesday that the company currently has the Nikola Tre BEV in production and a hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered Tre expected to begin production in the fourth quarter of this year. Alana Langdon, head of government affairs for Nikola, said the company is in the process of building four hydrogen fueling stations in California with a vision to roll out more such infrastructure nationwide. Mobile fueling/charging options, too, are part of the company’s development and production portfolio, and Langdon applauded “the EPA’s efforts” with the Phase 3 rule.  

The EPA will continue to accept written comments on its Phase 3 GHG standards proposal here through June 16.

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The following survey was sent as a link in an email cover message in February 2023 to the newsletter lists for Overdrive and CCJ. After approximately two weeks, a total of 176 owner-operators under their own authority, 113 owner-operators leased or assigned to a carrier and 82 fleet executives and 36 fleet employees from fleets with 10 or more power units had completed and submitted the questionnaire for a total of 407 qualified responses. Cross-tabulations based on respondent type are provided for each question when applicable.
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