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Trucking Sector Balks At Emissions Timeline

3 min read

On April 12 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from trucks beginning in model year 2027. It’s safe to say the proposal did not go over well with the trucking industry.

The EPA’s Phase 3 proposal called for standards that would result in 35% of short-haul tractors and 25% of long-haul tractors being electric by 2032. 

“These ambitious standards are readily achievable thanks to President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, which is already driving historic progress to build more American-made electric cars and secure America’s global competitiveness,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said.

The trucking industry disputes the “readily achievable” part of Regan’s statement. It’s not that truckers want to pollute; they just don’t want to lose their shirts because of unreachable standards, they say.

“The trucking industry starts at ‘yes,’” said Chris Spear, CEO of the American Trucking Associations. “We share the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving fuel efficiency and believe any regulation must be practical, achievable and based on sound science. Our members have a long history of adopting the cleanest emissions technology on the road today and are making the necessary investments to support a decarbonized future.”

Spear said the strict emission standards may be directed at manufacturers, but the pain would be felt by trucking companies. He called for “realistic equipment adoption timelines.” 

“The Phase 3 standards must take into account the complex challenges and operating conditions facing motor carriers as we manage the transition to a zero-emission future while simultaneously moving more than 72% of the economy’s freight,” Spear said.

He and others in the industry were upset that part of the EPA’s announcement was a revision of its Phase 2 proposal, finalized in 2016, that instituted stricter standards for 2027 truck models; Phase 3 covers model years 2028-2032. 

“To make the plans and investments necessary for a successful transition, our industry needs regulatory certainty — not whimsical changes of mind from year to year,” Spear said. “Our industry has always found ways to partner with EPA on regulations that are tough but achievable.”

On April 19, industry leaders talked to a Senate Environment & Public Works Subcommittee. One was Andrew Boyle, co-president of Boyle Transportation in Billerica, Massachusetts, and a vice chairman of the ATA. Boyle said the biggest hindrances are the lack of infrastructure — i.e., enough charging stations around the country to keep battery-powered tractors  charged — and power grid limitations. Trucking firms say utilities have told them there isn’t enough power to charge a whole fleet of tractor batteries, which weigh about 8,000 pounds and usually come two to a truck. 

Also, an electric tractor can cost nearly $500,000 as opposed to $200,000 for a diesel tractor. “We would be delighted to have more choices,” Boyle said. “If the power and infrastructure is not available, it’s not even a consideration for trucking.”

He said to build enough battery-fueled tractors to replace diesel fleets would require seven years’ worth of the global production of lithium. 

And battery-fueled trucks lack the range of diesels, as Chief Sustainability Officer Craig Harper of J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. of Lowell has often said. Range anxiety is real to trucking executives; it won’t be resolved until the infrastructure is in place.

Harper has said J.B. Hunt is committed to electric technology and reducing emissions. Its goal is to reduce carbon emissions by 32% by 2034. 

“As optimistic as we want to be, you have to be realistic about these things,” Harper told me in May 2022. “You have the weight penalty, the range anxiety, you have the costs … .

“There is the balance of trying to stay abreast of the technology and working with the technology and seeing where you can best implement it, but at the same time being commercially viable.”

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