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Environmental Rules, Changes, And Preparations Continue To Shape The Trucking Industry

In what many consider an interesting turn of events, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on November 13 that it will launch a new rulemaking designed to cut emissions of nitrogen oxide from diesel-powered heavy-duty commercial motor vehicles. The exact date on the ruling appears to be 2020.

Many within the industry openly wonder why the EPA, which has been rolling back lots of environmental regulations under President Trump, would now be aiming to increase the potency of a NOx rule. The going assumption is that the agency is looking to preempt state action as several states are looking to set up their own rules regulating NOx emissions from commercial motor vehicles.

Yet, the picture may not all be what it seems. Though it may seem unlike the EPA to be moving towards more regulation where this is concerned, the impetus is being driven by trucking and truck-manufacturing lobbying groups and organizations who are hoping the federal government can get ahead of California’s coming new state emissions rules. Many within California have remarked that they would not be opposed to a national rule, provided it is tough enough.

The Cleaner Trucks Initiative

The EPA has called this new idea the “Cleaner Trucks Initiative.” Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said it will include a future rulemaking that will update the existing federal NOx standard, which was last set nearly 20 years ago. The agency also hopes to streamline the overall compliance and certification requirements that trucking companies and OEMs must go through.

In a statement announcing the initiative, Wheeler stated that the new rulemaking endeavor would modernize heavy-duty truck engines, improve overall efficiency, and provide cleaner air. He also went on to say that the agency would undertake a thorough review of existing requirements and capitalize on the gains made through new technologies and methodologies.

Interestingly, the EPA is not mandated by statute to update the NOx standard. Noting that NOx emissions fell by over 40 percent in the ten years from 2007 to 2017, the EPA went on to state that there could still be more to go. By the EPA’s own estimates, nearly a third of all NOx emissions by 2025 will come from heavy-duty commercial motor vehicles.

Still, this does not signal a great big regulatory change from the agency. Having already rolled back more than two dozen regulations since President Trump took office, the EPA has emphasized that even as they take on this measure, they will also aim to cut red tape and simplify the certification and compliance process that heavy-duty truck and engine manufacturers must go through.

Some wonder exactly how the EPA plans to streamline the compliance and certification process. Fortunately, the agency has given some guidance where this is concerned. The specific areas of deregulatory focus will include onboard diagnostic requirements, deterioration factor testing, and annual recertification of engine failures.

The Industry Responds

Now the question is, what do OEMs and transportation sector lobbying groups think about he agency’s move? To start, Volvo Group North America’s John Mies has come out stating that his company supports the EPA’s decision to look at additional NOx reductions. He went on to state that this represented the last remaining air quality challenge facing the industry and the nation and that this will be a great opportunity to show that the government can focus on real-world emissions controls without creating a lot of headaches for the industry.

Mies also pointed out that the trucking industry has already taken upon itself to deliver “dramatic emissions reductions in response to EPA’s leadership in developing challenging but practical national emissions regulations.”

Engine makers are also providing their thoughts on the new measure. Global diesel engine maker Cummins Inc. came out with a statement supporting the effort and noting that they have a long history of working with regulators to develop standards that help to promote new technologies without harming the companies themselves.

Trucking lobbying groups have also come out in favor of the news, with the American Trucking Associations (ATA) releasing a statement “applauding” the EPA for taking this step to issue new NOx standards. ATA Executive Vice President Bill Sullivan noted that the ATA is in favor of a single national emissions standard, as opposed to a patchwork of state standards.

The Diesel Technology Forum plainly noted that this effort follows several petitions from state and local air agencies, truck and engine makers, and industry advocacy groups. With so many groups on board with the change, there really should be no reason to delay. The new CTI rulemaking is set to be released in 2020. The group also expects that the planned NOx ruling will bring today’s clean diesel technology closer to zero emissions than ever before.

Many within the trucking industry note that the sector has shown it can work proactively and in partnership with the government in reaching goals like this new NOx standard. Maintaining a strong and robust air quality standard without negatively impacting economic growth is certainly possible, as shown by past trucking industry efforts.

A Clearer Path

The Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association specifically referred to the Cleaner Trucks Initiative as a tremendous opportunity, stating that adopting this methodology will give manufacturers enough lead time to change their standards and meet the new regulatory requirement. The group noted that this is not the first time the EPA and industry stakeholders have taken this approach to working together.

Many openly speculate that when the federal government and industry stakeholders’ team up in this fashion, even more progress is made. Instead of mandating change through regulation, the government allows manufacturers to utilize methodologies and timelines that create greater efficiency across the manufacturing and delivery spectrum.

Daimler Trucks North America pointed out in a statement they released on November 14 that these sorts of partnered initiatives result in improved air quality, while also creating a regulatory framework that encourages reliable, durable products that don’t break the bank. Making sure companies can still afford the products being developed as a result of the regulatory change represents one of the most important facets of a partnership like this.

To learn more about the EPA’s Cleaner Trucks Initiative, click here.

How Tire Manufacturers Meet GHG Phase 2

In other trucking and environmental news, tire makers are responding to the fact that tires built for heavy-duty trucks after 2021 will have to be more efficient and operate with far less rolling resistance. Yet, they will still need to meet fleets’ expectations for reasonable tread wear and long tire life.

With GHG Phase 2 fast approaching, tire makers are running at full tilt to ensure they can meet the new rolling resistance coefficient. GHG Phase 1 rolling resistance coefficient was 7.7, but Phase 2 will bring that number down to 6.0, which represents another 25% reduction over the current standards. Many tire OEMs are reporting that meeting the new goal will drive a lot of new technological adoption.

In fact, the rolling resistance numbers are an actual measurement of a tire’s overall fuel efficiency. They are not intended to be a specific tool that fleets will need to use when spec’ing tires. The number actually represents only one of a tire’s many design criteria.

While tire manufacturers could probably build a tire with lower rolling resistance today, it is likely the tire would not have enough miles to removal and would be susceptible to tearing and chipping risks and traction losses. The fact is, fleets would not tolerate that kind of unsatisfactory performance and tire makers know it.

So, the process of developing tires that will meet the GHG Phase 2 requirements but also keep motor carriers happy is well under way. With 2021 not that far away, manufacturers are – pun intended – putting the rubber to the road in their development efforts. But how exactly are they doing it?

Changing the Formula

Traditionally, tire makers have lowered rolling resistance by changing the tread and sidewall compounds and reducing the depth of treat. While these methods can meet the goal, they sometimes have unwanted side effects. Traditional compounds resist tearing and cutting more than novel new compounds used to decrease rolling resistance.

Many new tire OEMs are pointing to a new way forward by breaking the tire into separate components during the design phase and optimizing the construction of that part of the tire for what it can deliver when it comes to fuel economy. Many will start with the tread and break it into several layers. One layer can be optimized for tread wear and traction and the other for fuel economy.

From open-design tread blocks to blades and sipes that create a biting tread, tire OEMs are going all-out to ensure they can meet the call for a more efficient tire without alienating their customers. Will the deadline be too much for them to meet?

The fact is, even in this anti-environmental regulatory environment, state and government agencies, as well as manufacturers of all types, are stepping up the call to increase efficiency and lead the way to new technologies. These developments can only be good for anyone who breathes air.

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