Senate passes measure to roll back truck emissions rule

Rule contributes to supply chain and inflation woes, say Republicans

"The irony is, the prices of newer vehicles will escalate, incentivizing truckers and businesses to hold onto their older, higher-emitting trucks,” said Sen. Deb Fischer, sponsor of the resolution. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
"The irony is, the prices of newer vehicles will escalate, incentivizing truckers and businesses to hold onto their older, higher-emitting trucks,” said Sen. Deb Fischer, sponsor of the resolution. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 26, 2023 at 6:07pm

The Senate narrowly passed a joint resolution that would roll back an EPA regulation setting stringent standards for smog-forming emissions from heavy-duty trucks.

The Congressional Review Act joint resolution, which passed 50-49 Wednesday afternoon, was driven by arguments from Republicans and some Democrats that the Biden administration regulation would contribute to supply chain woes and inflation after the trucking industry warned it would significantly increase costs for big rigs. 

And it shows that fossil energy-friendly Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., continues to be wary of President Joe Biden’s stringent climate standards. Still, the tally was well short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a veto, which the White House said Biden would issue if the measure reaches his desk. 

“The irony is, the prices of newer vehicles will escalate, incentivizing truckers and businesses to hold onto their older, higher-emitting trucks,” Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., sponsor of the resolution, said in a Wednesday floor speech. “Smaller, more affordable trucking businesses will close up shop, and the ones that can afford higher prices will raise their rates. This means consumers will be paying more money to a smaller group of businesses.”

The EPA’s nitrogen oxide (NOx) rule, finalized in December, requires heavy- and medium-duty vehicles starting in model year 2027 to meet the “most stringent” emissions reduction option first proposed by the agency a year ago.

Nitrogen oxides are produced from fuel burning and mix with other pollutants in the atmosphere to create smog and acid rain. High levels of smog have been linked to respiratory diseases and asthma. The EPA estimates that the rule will reduce NOx emissions from the heavy-duty truck fleet by 48 percent by 2045.

If the most ambitious goals outlined in the rule are met by 2045, the EPA projects that early onset asthma cases among children will decline by 18,000 per year and premature deaths will go down by 2,900 annually.

In floor remarks Wednesday, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., denounced the joint resolution, warning that it could “prevent the agency from ever issuing similar standards in the future.”

'Achievable'

“These standards are achievable, and they provide predictability for industry, which the blunt tool of the CRA would undercut,” Carper added. “EPA listened to a range of stakeholders during the rulemaking process, and finalized standards that are feasible and cost-effective for manufacturers and fleet operators.”

The White House defended the rule in its veto threat issued Wednesday. “Over time, the final rule will prevent hundreds of premature deaths, thousands of childhood asthma cases, and millions of lost school days every year for the tens of millions of Americans who live, work, and go to school near roadways with high truck volume including truck freight routes,” the White House said.

Fischer introduced the CRA resolution after the trucking industry decried the standards over concerns that the stringent NOx rules combined with upcoming regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, which EPA proposed earlier in April, will squeeze smaller truck fleets with higher price tags.

“The [GHG] proposal comes on the heels of a hurried NOx emissions rulemaking finalized in December … [and] is a blatant attempt to force consumers into purchasing electric vehicles while a national charging infrastructure network remains absent for heavy-duty commercial trucks,” said Todd Spencer, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a small truckers organization, after the GHG standards proposal. “Professional drivers are skeptical of EV costs, mileage range, battery weight and safety, charging time and availability.”