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New rule 20 years in the making aims to cut truck tailpipe pollution

While activists say that even the updates don't go far enough, the government anticipates that by 2045 the new rules will bring nearly a 50% cut in smog and soot emissions from heavy-duty trucks.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Rolling out its first regulatory update since 2001 for large trucks, delivery vehicles and buses, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized new clean air standards Tuesday designed to cut smog- and soot-forming nitrogen oxide emissions.

The new standards call for heavy-duty trucks to cut their smog and soot emissions of nitrogen oxides nearly in half by 2045. Heavy-duty trucks from model-year 2027 will be the first to comply with new rules, which are more than 80% stronger than standards being replaced.

Officials expect to see several positive public health outcomes from the change, since truck emissions can cause respiratory problems in humans. By 2045, the EPA says the country will experience up to 2,900 fewer premature deaths, 18,000 fewer cases of childhood asthma, and 3.1 million fewer cases of asthma and allergy symptoms.

The economy, too, will reap $29 billion in annual benefits from the change, according to the agency, which estimates 6,700 fewer hospital visits, 1.1 billion fewer days taken off school and 78,000 fewer days taken off of work related to respiratory illnesses.

“EPA is taking significant action to protect public health, especially the health of 72 million people living near truck freight routes in America, including our most vulnerable populations in historically overburdened communities,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement Tuesday.

The changes were proposed in March, and Regan emphasized that they are just the beginning of a series of actions the agency plans to take to cut vehicle emissions.

“This is just the first action under EPA’s Clean Trucks Plan to pave the way toward a zero-emission future,” Regan continued. “These rigorous standards, coupled with historic investments from the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will accelerate President Biden’s ambitious agenda to overhaul the nation’s trucking fleet, deliver cleaner air, and protect people and the planet.”

Next year, the agency is set to unveil a third phase of greenhouse gas standards for heavy-duty vehicles as well as new emissions standards for light- and medium-duty vehicles. These would also kick-off with the 2027 model year.

American Lung Association CEO Harold Wimmer noted that these “Phase 3" standards, set to be implemented by March 2023, must build on Tuesday’s actions and “dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from trucks to drive a nationwide transition to zero-emission vehicles.” 

“Our recent ‘Delivering Clean Air’ report found that in communities with major trucking routes, the transition to zero-emission trucks and electricity would save 66,800 lives by 2050,” Wimmer said in a statement. “This transition is critical for improving public health, advancing health equity and addressing climate change.”

Environmental groups lamented Tuesday how much still remains to be done.

Britt Carmon, the federal clean vehicles advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, called Tuesday's rule an overdue improvement but one that still allows truck makers to keep producing polluting vehicles.

“These standards fall short, and the agency missed a critical opportunity to slash soot and smog and accelerate the shift to the cleanest vehicles,” Carmon said in a statement. “EPA now needs to move quickly to put in place the next round of standards that will accelerate the transition to zero-emitting trucks so that we can all be free from the tailpipe pollution that is harming our health and accelerating climate change.”

The Sierra Club echoed this position, adding that heavy-duty truck emissions are “especially dangerous for marginalized communities across the nation that live next to major freight corridors.”

A representative for the industry said they are still in the process of reviewing the details of the newly published emissions rule, but “it is clear the rule is very stringent and will be challenging to implement.”

Jed Mandel, the president of the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association, also emphasized, however, that member groups are fully committed to working with the EPA and other stakeholders for regulatory compliance.

“Ultimately, the success or failure of this rule hinges on the willingness and ability of trucking fleets to invest in purchasing the new technology to replace their older, higher-emitting vehicles,” he said in a statement.

The transportation sector is estimated to produce roughly 29% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, making it the largest source of emissions in the country. Passenger cars and trucks are estimated to make up 58% of all transportation-related emissions and 17% of total emissions.

Last year, the Biden administration ramped up its climate change fighting agenda with an update to federal vehicle mileage goals for new cars and small trucks sold in the United States.

Keeping in line with the president's goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, the rule requires cars and other light-duty vehicles for model years 2023 through 2026 comply with a 40 miles-per-gallon standard by 2026.

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