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EPA Pledges to Clamp Down on Pollution from Heavy Trucks

Agency promises new standard for emissions of nitrogen oxide, a pollutant that’s a big issue in a corridor state like New Jersey

trucks port newark
Credit: Adam Allington/Marketplace

For the first time in 17 years, the federal government is planning to clamp down on a type of smog-forming pollution from heavy-duty trucks.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week announced it will come up with a new standard to decrease emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx) from heavy-duty trucks and engines; the rule has not been changed since 2001.

The issue is important to New Jersey, a corridor state with significant truck traffic on interstate highways and urban areas in and out of its ports. Transportation is the major source of air pollution in the state, which has never complied with certain requirements of the Clean Air Act.

The pollutant targeted by the agency contributes to the formation of smog, or ground-level ozone that can cause lung disease and asthma. New Jersey has failed to achieve the federal health quality standard for ozone, a pollutant formed by the baking of emissions from vehicles and power plants during hot summer months.

In announcing the initiative, the EPA said it would reduce emissions from the pollutant significantly, helping communities attain clean air standards. It is estimated heavy-duty trucks will account for one third of NOx emissions from the transportation sector in future years.

EPA has been ‘rolling back’ other regulations

The agency’s announcement was welcomed by environmentalists, but greeted with some skepticism, considering the Trump administration has moved to freeze rules to tighten fuel-economy standards for light-duty vehicles and cars, a step being challenged by New Jersey and other states.

“Before this decision, the EPA has been rolling back, changing or delaying Obama administration efforts to reduce air pollution and transportation regulation,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. He fears the new proposal will deregulate how the standards are enforced.

Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, said the agency needs to reduce harmful emissions from trucks. “Diesel pollution from trucks is a scourge on our air quality and we need to take more steps to reduce the black sooty emissions from darkening our skies,’’ he said.

But EPA officials argued the announcement is a signal the agency is working hard on reducing emissions while producing a more effective and efficient program. “The Cleaner Trucks Initiative will help modernize heavy-duty truck emissions, improving the efficiency and providing cleaner air for all Americans,’’ said EPA’s acting administrator Andrew Wheeler.

The EPA offered few details of the new rule proposal. The agency intends to propose a rule, after extensive discussions with stakeholders, in 2020.

California working on stricter standards

Gail Toth, executive director of the New Jersey Motor Trucks Association, noted that NOx emissions have dropped by 90 percent since the rule was adopted in 2001. Toth said her organization supports the new initiative, in part, because it will improve efficiency, and also because it will propose a new 50-state rule for emissions from heavy-duty trucks.

California has been granted a waiver to impose tougher emission standards for trucks than the rest of the nation and is now working on imposing tighter standards than the current federal requirements.

“What is more important is that all 50 states will have to comply with the new standards,’’ Toth said. “We prefer the approach when everyone is playing by the same rules.’’

The EPA’s initiative comes after it had to pull back a decision earlier this summer to block enforcement of a new rule aimed at limiting pollution from super-polluting trucks. That followed a court challenge by several states, including New Jersey, of the new regulation put in place by the Obama administration.

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