Friday, December 23, 2016

California Has Done It Again….

EPA Grants Petition for Lower Engine Standard

Well, just when the light at the end of the tunnel was drawing near, the trucking industry is again seeing the one eyed freight train of environmental regulation headed right at them. This week the EPA released a response the petition filed by CARB, SCAQMD and SJAPCD et al. requesting a federal rulemaking for a lower NOx engine standard to take effect in 2024. EPA has granted their request and will begin a 24 month technical research period with a rulemaking coming in 2019 for a 2024 implementation date.
While this may all sound familiar, these new standards are not the kind that are designed to enhance fuel economy, like the Phase 1 and Phase 2 GHG standards,( Click here for More Info )  these are the type that directly control criteria pollutants and tend to degrade fuel economy. In this case, the criteria pollutants under control are the directly emitted oxides of nitrogen or NOx, which forms ozone in the atmosphere when it reacts with sunlight, eventually resulting the ever familiar shroud of smog that blankets many major cities and metropolitan areas in the world.

Since California is under strict federal standards to meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for Ozone attainment, their main focus to meet those standards outside of recent rulemakings, is the low NOx engine standard. Now that CARB is done decimating the in-state fleet through in-use rules, they have been granted passage into the next phase of their quest for clean air, a federal engine standard that no one can escape.

The challenge in California, especially southern California and the central valley, is that the NAAQS cannot be met without a lower federal NOx engine standard because the majority of trucks operating on California roads are from out of state.

These fleets (for the most part) turn over to newer engine technology through natural attrition due to  higher mileage accumulation and therefore avoid in-use standards because the technology they are using is ahead of the California rules. So, enter the federal government.  With a federal standard (More Info) the natural turnover would eventually lead to the implementation of the lower NOx standard across the out of state fleet with the in-state legacy fleet following close behind. In theory anyway (cue the Pre-Buy!).

Of course there will be a formal rulemaking procedure beginning sometime in 2019, where California will be leading the charge for the standard they feel they need, the .02 standard, while the OEM’s and possibly the EPA might take a more reasonable approach with a slightly higher, but lower than current standard, possibly with a maintenance and warranty enhancement such as the ARB is currently pursuing.

The new administration has been quiet on the new engine standard so far. Nevertheless, any attempt in unwinding what the Golden State has started may prove more complicated then it appears. The first hurdle is that California is mandated to meet the NAAQS as directed by the Clean Air Act .If they can't meet the goals, the EPA steps in to do it for them.

The quandary for the new administration  will boil down to if they are going to play nice with California or face imminent litigation which will result in California getting their way anyway. Unless congress changes the clean air act, California will get its engine standard one way or another nationwide or California only. For the golden state, there is no other way and currently, the EPA agrees.  

Based on California’s emissions modeling , they cannot meet the federal standards without the low NOx engine. It has been made clear to industry and everyone else that the 2010 technology will not be enough to get them to their attainment goals. This is relatively bad news for a just recently beat up California based trucking industry. While the ARB has given indication that no new, in-use, on-road rules will be implemented, there is little stopping local districts in pursuing facility caps in Environmental Justice areas to force the turnover to the cleaner standard.

While the in-state fleet thought they were out of the woods with the 2010 technology, the worse news is that according to recent research findings, cold engine operation and deterioration of emissions controls in 2010 engine technology is resulting in much higher in-use emissions than anticipated. So, CARB has the data and will be able to make a compelling case for the cleanest standard because, in their collective mind, there is no other pathway. If the feds try and stop them, they will sue, they will win and we will all be back to square one, maybe a couple years later, but square one nonetheless.  Never a dull moment….

Stay Tuned!

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