The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

EPA proposes reversing stricter pollution rules for heavy-duty trucks with older engines

Placeholder while article actions load

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule Thursday to repeal tighter emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks with older engines, an Obama-era regulation aimed at controlling soot and other pollutants along with greenhouse-gas emissions linked to climate change.

Major trucking groups and engine manufacturers supported the 2016 rule, which was set to take full effect in January. But it was fiercely opposed by a handful of companies that manufacture truck components called gliders and trailers. A glider, or body, is the front of a truck, including the cab, which fits over the engine. Trailers are the storage components that make up most of the length of a truck.

In a statement, Pruitt — who met privately in May with Fitzgerald Truck Sales, the manufacturer that stands to benefit most from the rule’s repeal — said the rule disproportionately affected an industry that produces roughly 10,000 gliders a year. Originally intended to allow truckers to continue using engines when their vehicles had been damaged in accidents, some now buy new components to house older engines as a way of saving thousands of dollars.

“The previous administration attempted to bend the rule of law and expand the reach of the federal government in a way that threatened to put an entire industry of specialized truck manufacturers out of business,” Pruitt said. “Gliders not only provide a more affordable option for smaller owners and operators, but also serve as a key economic driver to numerous rural communities.”

Until the EPA adopted the original glider rule last year, trucking companies could install an outdated engine into a new truck body and avoid regulations that would apply to an entirely new truck. Heavy-duty trucks have faced tighter emissions standards since 2004, though they have become more stringent over time, thereby widening the gap between new ones and truck bodies that contain older engines.

The EPA had previously projected that the gliders sold in a single year would generate pollution over their lifetime that could result in between 350 and 1,600 premature deaths, and that the rule would generate between $1.5 billion and $11 billion in related public health benefits. On Thursday, the EPA estimated these vehicles make up less than 5 percent of the Class 8 heavy-duty highway truck market but did not provide any cost-benefit analysis along with the new rule.

American Lung Association president and chief executive Harold P. Wimmer decried the proposed rule, which will be subject to public comment until Jan. 5, as prioritizing “narrow industry special interests over the health of children, people with asthma and heart disease, and other vulnerable populations.

“By giving older, dirty heavy-duty trucks a license to pollute the air we all breathe with nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, this proposal will lead to asthma attacks, lung cancer and premature deaths that could have been avoided,” Wimmer said. “The American Lung Association will fight to save lives and support the health of Americans by stopping this dirty diesel truck loophole.”