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Biden unveils stricter emissions rules for heavy-duty trucks

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Emissions-producing diesel trucks and cars pass non-polluting windmills along the 10 freeway on December 8, 2009 near Banning, California.

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The Biden administration on Tuesday announced stricter standards on smog-forming emissions from trucks, vans and buses starting in the 2027 model year, the first of several federal actions aimed at limiting vehicle pollution.

Medium- and heavy-duty trucks represent only about 4% of vehicles in the U.S., but due to their larger size and greater travel distances, the vehicles consume more than 25% of total highway fuel and comprise nearly 30% of highway carbon emissions, according to the Department of Energy.

The new rules from the Environmental Protection Agency are the first update to clean air standards for heavy-duty vehicles in more than 20 years. The standards by 2045 will result in a 48% reduction in nitrogen oxide, a 28% reduction in benzene, a 23% reduction in volatile organic compounds and an 18% reduction in carbon monoxide. All of these emissions can cause health problems for people.

The new rules will also help fight climate change, even though they aren’t likely to have any effect on carbon dioxide emissions. Nitrogen oxide is roughly 300 times as potent as carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere and accounts for about 7% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activity, according to the EPA.

The agency estimates the standards will result in up to 2,900 fewer premature deaths, 6,700 fewer hospital admissions and emergency department visits, 18,000 fewer cases of childhood asthma and $29 billion in annual net benefits by 2045.

A truck emits exhaust while driving through the Port of Oakland on February 16, 2022 in Oakland, California.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Michael Regan, the administrator of the EPA, said the actions would protect the health of 72 million people who live near truck freight routes in the U.S., including the most threatened populations in historically polluted communities.

“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,” Regan said in a statement.

Britt Carmon, the federal clean vehicles advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the new EPA standards fall short and the agency missed a critical opportunity to accelerate the shift to the cleanest vehicles.

“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,” Carmon said in a statement.

The EPA is set to propose in the spring separate greenhouse gas standards for heavy-duty vehicles starting in the 2027 model year. The agency also said it will delay making a decision until early next year on California’s requests to set its own heavy-truck emissions rules.

Vickie Patton, general counsel for Environmental Defense Fund, praised the standards and urged the agency to quickly move forward to recognize state standards adopted by states such as California that are aiming to phase out diesel fuel.

Jed Mandel, president of the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association, an industry group, said the agency’s new standards are stringent and would be difficult to implement.

“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,” Mandel said in a statement.

The EPA’s standards will take effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

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