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Tougher Air Pollution Regulations For Diesel Trucks Are En-Route

Photo of truck in Utah. / bluebeat76

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unveiled plans Tuesday to develop next-generation regulations to reduce a key pollutant from heavy-duty diesel trucks, but officials offered no details on what those changes will entail.

In a conference call with reporters, acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the “Clean Truck Initiative” in a move that air regulators and the trucking industry have advocated for years.

Photo of truck at EPA.
Credit Judy Fahys / KUER
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced plans for another round of emissions reductions for heavy-duty diesel trucks. Nationally, those trucks are responsible for about one-third of NOX emissions, which contribute to winter and summer pollution.

The EPA will require truck makers to reduce oxides of nitrogen, or NOX — a critical component of the two types of pollution, Wheeler said. The two types are ground-level ozone and sooty pollution associated with fine particles from vehicle exhaust and other combustion. Both plague Utah’s air at different times of the year.

“We want to provide the trucking industry with the regulatory certainty they need and help cities and states meet the attainment requirements for ozone and particulate matter,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler said the Clean Truck Initiative will also streamline regulations for certifying that diesel engines are, in fact, cleaner. The EPA did not release any details about its plans. Instead, Wheeler said Tuesday, the agency will solicit ideas from industry, the states and the public, and new standards probably won’t be finalized until 2020.

Over the past four decades, federal regulators periodically have ordered makers of garbage trucks, tractor trailers and other heavy-duty trucks to reduce emissions — four times in total. Wheeler credited improved technology with a steady decline in truck emissions.

Graph of Onboard Mobile Emissions.
Credit The Utah Division of Air Quality
Past reductions ordered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency already are projected to have an impact on reducing pollution in Utah's air, according to the Utah Division of Air Quality. Any reductions from what the Trump Administration is calling the "Clean Truck Initiative" are not yet factored into these projections.

Bryce Bird, director of the Utah Division of Air Quality, said emissions from heavy-duty vehicles are already projected to decline over time, but any new reductions will help clean up winter and summer pollution even more. On-road heavy-duty trucks are currently responsible for 36 percent of overall air pollution in Utah and Salt Lake counties, Bird said.

“We've seen the benefits from existing technology,” Bird said, “and [we] are certainly encouraged EPA is now looking at improving those standards so that future vehicles will even have better emissions profiles.”

Clean car-clean fuel standards — often called the Tier 3 Standards — are already expected to reduce pollution from light-duty vehicles, such as family cars and trucks. But cleaning up heavy-duty vehicle emissions will allow Utah to continue reducing pollution even with the expected growth in population — and the increasing number of vehicles on Utah’s roads.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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