New, Stronger Rules for Truck Pollution Still Would Not Meet Air Quality Goals

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CLIMATEWIRE | EPA’s proposal to limit toxic pollution from heavy-duty trucks is stronger than anything that has come before it. However, state and local air quality agencies claim it is not aggressive enough to meet federal regulators clean air standards.

The National Association of Clean Air Agencies — which represents 115 local air pollution control agencies across 41 states, four territories and the District of Columbia — estimates that more than a third of the U.S. population lives in an area that does not meet federal air quality standards. Truck traffic is one reason.

Now that the EPA is trying to reduce heavy-duty truck emissions, it also sets stricter standards for particle pollution. The NACAA claims that the draft truck rule is not strong enough to assist states in meeting current air quality standards.

“EPA is increasing the number of areas that don’t meet health-based air quality standards while proposing a rule which isn’t sufficiently protective for the most important source that pollutes,” said Miles Keogh (NACAA executive director).

Heavy duty trucks are the biggest mobile source of nitrogen oxides. These can react in the atmosphere to create toxic pollutants like particulate matter and ozone. Although states can reduce emissions from stationary sources such as power plants and factories they lack the authority to regulate emissions from trucks and cars, which fall under federal jurisdiction.

That means without a federal rule to sufficiently curb NOx emissions from 18-wheelers, delivery vans and dump trucks, states are running out of ways to come into compliance with air quality standards, analysts say.

“In the 1970s there were more opportunities for emissions reductions because we had not yet started to reduce emissions,” said Julian Marshall, a civil and environmental engineering professor at the University of Washington. “But they have already addressed the hard stuff so the number [pollution] of sources they can control is shrinking .”

EPA last updated its federal standards for NOx emissions from heavy-duty trucks 20 years ago, during which time the public’s health suffered. Toxic air pollution can lead to a variety of illnesses, including an increased risk of premature death and poor lung development in children. The country’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions is also transportation.

Low-income neighborhoods and communities of color have been most affected by this pollution. They are located close to highways, freight corridors and warehouses, according the EPA.

President Joe Biden pledged to address these disparities by updating emission standards on heavy-duty trucks. But EPA’s proposed rule, which was released in March, came as a disappointment to environmental and public health experts who had hoped for a stronger regulation (Climatewire, April 14).

Along with advocates living and working in these heavily polluted areas, the experts urged EPA to issue a truck rule in line with California’s recently enacted Heavy-Duty Omnibus program, which requires a 90 percent reduction in NOx emissions by 2027 compared to 2010 standards.

EPA proposed two options. Although the first option is similar to California’s, it is not as strong. The second, less stringent option is more in line with what truck- and engine-makers have pushed for (Greenwire, March 8).

“This administration made addressing racial injustices a priority,” stated Ray Minjares who is the head of the International Council on Clean Transportation’s heavy duty vehicles program. “And we’re not seeing that in the rule. “

Community members have continued to meet with EPA staffers at least once a month, but say they feel overlooked (Climatewire, May 16).

Meanwhile, EPA is slated to propose stronger particulate matter limits this summer, after an advisory panel delivered a pivotal review recommending the agency tighten both annual and daily exposure limits (Greenwire, March 22). Although EPA does not intend to increase NOx limits, these criteria pollutants are a major contributor to particulate matter.

“EPA’s proposed rule really leaves people up to the river in terms of getting those NOx reductions,” Keogh stated. “Our agencies cannot squeeze it from the sources we have, and we need to ask the feds for a sufficiently protective standard .”

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In Phoenix, Ariz. for example, smokestacks are rare and far between, Keogh stated.

” That haze over mountains is coming from mobile source,” he said. “It’s coming out of cars and trucks .”

Another example is Wisconsin, which has many areas that don’t meet federal air quality standards. Vehicles that travel through Wisconsin are the largest contributors to NOx emissions. And nearly half of those emissions come from heavy-duty trucks, according to the 2017 National Emissions Inventory.

Taylor Gillespie, spokesperson for

EPA, stated that the agency’s truck rule was a proposal and not a final regulation.

” We had an extended comment period where people could weigh in and give feedback, which closed last week,” she wrote in an email. “We are currently reviewing these comments and look forward to addressing concerns over the coming months

Gillespie also noted the rule is the first phase of the agency’s broader plan to address pollution from trucks.

Cleaner air, but ‘disparities remain’

While researchers and those who are affected have known for a long time the negative health effects of living and working in heavy-duty trucking industries, new research has revealed the systemic nature and scale of these disparities.

A study published this year in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters found a correlation between redlining — a discriminatory mortgage appraisal practice from the 1930s — and air pollution levels in Black neighborhoods.

” This is what many communities have said for decades, and that the risks of air pollution are not felt equally among members of our society,” said Marshall who co-authored this study. “Ethically, that’s almost its very own reason to care about pollution. It has this fairness aspect

Marshall said one reason for the disparity is because in the 1960s the federal government routed freeways directly, and often intentionally, through Black and low-income neighborhoods — a historical wrong the Biden administration has said it wants to help remedy (Climatewire, Dec. 8, 2021).

Another study published last year in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that early in the Covid-19 pandemic, overall levels of toxic pollution decreased the most in Black, Latino and low-income neighborhoods as people stopped driving to work.

But these communities still suffered higher levels of pollution than the areas that were majority white and more affluent even before the pandemic. This is partly because heavy-duty trucking increased while passenger vehicle traffic declined during the pandemic.

Similarly, in a draft policy assessment for its particulate matter rulemaking, EPA staff found that Black communities would experience proportionally greater benefits from stricter particulate matter air quality standards, but they would still face higher rates of premature mortality risks from toxic pollution compared to other groups.

“The air has gotten cleaner over time, but there are still disparities,” Marshall stated. “So we need to look for opportunities like diesel emissions to find the causes that make certain groups more exposed than others, and then address those .”

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EPA will release its final truck emissions rule by the end of this year.

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POL

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