Fighting the Climate Crisis and Public Health Problems: A Step in the Right Direction

Abhilasha Desai
Associate Editor
Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2024

On December 20, 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a regulation that will require heavy-duty trucks and vehicles to adopt new, more stringent standards in order to reduce smog and pollution. The EPA implemented this measure as part of its Clean Trucks Plan, a three-year plan, created to reduce emissions from heavy-duty vehicles, in hopes of addressing the climate crisis and improving public health. The new standards set by this regulation are stronger than the current ones by more than 80%. Nonetheless, many are disappointed that the regulation is not as stringent as they had hoped for.

What the regulation will require and what it aims to do

Beginning with the model year 2027, the regulation will specifically require heavy-duty vehicles to reduce their nitrogen oxide emissions by 48%. The EPA’s goal is to have this done by 2045. Heavy-duty vehicles are those that can handle a maximum weight of over 8,500 lbs., which includes the weight of the vehicle, fuel, passengers, and cargo. Emissions from heavy-duty vehicles have been linked to health problems, and primarily affect poor, Black and Latino populations living alongside truck freight routes.

Due to the heavy pollution near those routes, these communities suffer from higher rates of disease and early death. Michael Regan, administrator of the EPA, stated that this rule will help the 72 million people that live near such routes. The EPA believes that by 2045, the rule will result in benefits such as fewer premature deaths, fewer hospital admissions, fewer cases of childhood asthma, and billions in annual net benefits. The new rule will also address the climate crisis because nitrogen oxide is 300 times as vigorous as carbon dioxide when it comes to heating up the atmosphere. Nitrogen oxide constitutes approximately 7% of the greenhouse gases emitted by human activity in the United States.

Aside from reducing nitrogen oxide, the rule also has other provisions. One provision ensures that even if the vehicle ages, it will continue to meet the new standards. Another provision requires manufacturers to demonstrate that the emission controls are designed to work properly and are not prone to tampering from drivers.

Criticism from environmental advocates and the trucking industry

Despite all the benefits that will result from this regulation, many environmental advocates have criticized the Biden administration and the EPA for not taking more aggressive steps. For example, advocates in the state of California feel that the new standards are not stringent enough because their standards are 90% stronger rather than the EPA’s 80%. In fact, the state of California has requested a waiver to set its own standards so it does not have to adopt the EPA’s rule. Advocates are also disappointed that the finalized rule does not match what the EPA had proposed in March of 2022. Last March, the EPA had announced that the rule would cut 60% of nitrogen oxide rather than the 48%. Further, some advocates feel that the regulation does not do enough to reduce emissions specifically associated with the burning of diesel fuel.

The regulation has also faced criticism from individuals in the trucking industry. In contrast with environmental advocates, they feel that the new rule is already too aggressive and stringent. Officials in the industry have said that making changes based on these new standards will be too costly, especially for small truckers. If small business owners in the trucking industry cannot afford these changes, they are more likely to stick with older trucks. The regulation requires these new standards to be implemented in models starting with the year 2027, but it does not mandate truckers to stop using older models. The cost for a truck that has greater emission controls can be as much as $200,000, and such a price makes it difficult for some truckers to spend money on new equipment.

Why the regulation is a step in the right direction

Due to the worsening climate crisis and detrimental effects of emissions on public health, it is crucial to take steps toward reducing the amount of pollution in the air. While many advocates are disappointed that the December regulation does not do enough to combat these issues, it is important to consider that this is the first time in over two decades, that the government has tried to resolve pollution issues from heavy-duty vehicles. Although the new regulation may not be as aggressive as some had hoped for, it is still a significant step toward fighting the climate crisis and public health problems. Moreover, the EPA is not done with its goal. This regulation is just one phase in the EPA’s Clean Trucks Plan; more requirements are yet to come. Changes of such nature require time, and while the finalization of this regulation may not be enough, it is definitely a start.