Prime Mover Magazine

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Phil Taylor

US winds back greenhouse gas regulations

December 2017

Greenhouse gas (CO2) reduction mandates in the heavy vehicle road-freight sector around the globe had always focused on the truck itself, because after all, it is the truck that expends energy moving the combination. That was until the US Environmental Protection Agency (US-EPA) was challenged by the Obama Administration to review greenhouse gas (GHG) regulation in this sector.

The result of this rethink by the EPA in tackling CO2 road-freight emissions was to focus on whole heavy vehicle combination – truck and trailer. The US-EPA acknowledged that the trailer created considerable aerodynamic drag that significantly impacted on the GHG performance of the combination. Governments, vehicle manufacturers and truck operators around the world watched this world first strategy unfold with interest, as the US-EPA embarked on the ambitious project of developing a methodology and test program that could deliver measurable, real-world GHG reductions to a heavy vehicle combination, not just the prime mover.

In simple terms, the final regulations, dubbed GHG Phase 2 and developed by the US-EPA in conjunction with the California Air Resources Board (CARB), required trailer manufacturers to demonstrate the fuel efficiency of an existing, pre-GHG 2 trailer versus the new GHG 2–compliant trailer design. This was to be done by loading each trailer with the same mass of freight and towing the trailer around a predetermined route across the US behind a GHG 2–compliant prime mover. The same prime mover would be used for both tests. The GHG 2 trailer had to use ‘X’ per cent less fuel than the current trailer design. The value of ‘X’ varied depending on a number of variables such as the type of trailer and the year the trailer was manufactured. The GHG 2 regulations required increasing efficiencies over the course of the program. Trailer manufacturers could use a raft of different methods and technologies to achieve efficiency gains. These included aerodynamic devices, fuel-efficient tyres, weight-saving materials and components, etc., which when used in combination would improve the overall fuel efficiency of the trailer and the vehicle combination.

From the very start of this project, the EPA faced ‘pushback’ from the US Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association (TTMA), which claimed that the EPA did not have the authority to regulate trailers under the US Clean Air Act. The TTMA commenced legal action once the Obama Administration implemented the trailer component of GHG Phase 2 in 2016. In late October 2017, the US Court of Appeals granted an indefinite stay on the implementation date for trailers to comply with GHG 2, thus ending the mandated CO2 efficiencies for trailers. The court’s judgement was, in the end, based on a technicality argued by the TTMA – that the US-EPA did not have the authority to regulate trailers under the US Clean Air Act because the trailer itself did not produce greenhouse gas emissions, only the truck did. The ruling puts paid to a designed reduction in carbon emissions of more than a billion metric tonness through to 2027.

This decision also raises the strong possibility that the state of California will now introduce its own more aggressive, de facto national trailer efficiency standards, superseding the proposed federal rules. The American Trucking Association (ATA) believes a single national standard, set by federal regulators, is preferable to, at worst, a patchwork of state standards or, at best, a de facto national standard that is set without the appropriate opportunity for the entire regulated community to weigh in, many operators are not based in California.

This unfortunate outcome in the US reinforces my belief that government and industry must work together to develop new vehicle regulations. All too often some organisations take an indirect approach, such as using the media to raise their issues, rather than liaising with government through the correct channels. Such antagonistic methods do nothing for industry/government relationships. To this end I believe that the Truck Industry Council has a proven track record in working collaboratively with Australian government to bring efficient, practical and meaningful regulatory change that has, and will continue to, improve the safety and environmental performance of new trucks. Something that is of great benefit to all Australians.

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