Truck Makers, Fleets, Big Oil Ready to Fight EPA Over Emissions

Multiple stakeholders in the trucking sector are preparing to battle the EPA over new emissions requirements designed to displace gasoline and diesel trucks.

David Kiley, Senior Editor

April 5, 2024

4 Min Read
Hydrogen fuel cells are seen as best replacement for diesel, while EV trucks are more apt to replace gasoline-powered trucks.

Now that the passenger-vehicle industry has gotten the Biden Admin. to tap the brakes on EV mandates, the heavy-truck lobby is looking for concessions from the EPA on emissions rules designed to force trucking out of diesel fuel and into hydrogen fuel cells and battery-electric trucks.

The EPA has set strict emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks, buses and other large vehicles. The new rules will apply to eight classes of heavy trucks, from delivery vehicles and trash trucks to long-haul big rigs and will cover model years 2027 through 2032.

In the case of cars, light trucks and utility vehicles, the auto industry can now meet the emissions limits if 56% of new passenger vehicle sales are electric by 2032, along with at least 13% plug-in hybrids or other partially electrified cars. That is giving automakers more time to allow consumers to get used to the idea of buying and driving EVs and for the public charging networks to mature.

The EPA is not dictating a specific technology to replace diesel and gasoline. That makes sense because there are many applications for battery-powered light trucks. Some companies have been testing Tesla’s BEV heavy truck, while other companies, depending on typical load size and weight, are piloting hydrogen fuel-cell trucks. There is a widely held, but not universal, belief that fuel cells are a better replacement technology for diesel, while batteries are better replacements for gasoline.

There are many decisions for truck makers and fleet operators to make. An earlier EPA analysis estimated that the rule could result in truck makers using zero-emission battery-electric or hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles for between 10%and 40% of their fleet, depending on the class of vehicle and the company's overall emissions reduction strategy.

"Looking across multiple classes of vehicles, the industry can make proper investment strategies, giving them flexibility to choose from a range of options," says EPA Chief Michael S. Regan.

The federal government is driving policy to displace fossil fuel for both passenger cars and heavy trucks in the name of mitigating climate change from man-made emissions, and curbing pollution around busy trucking routes. The European Union has similar parallel policies. The EPA says transportation accounts for 27% of the U.S.’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Within the transportation sector, heavy-duty vehicles are the second-largest contributor, making up about a quarter of transportation emissions.

To that end, the federal government is spending about $8 billion developing hydrogen production and distribution hubs principally to supply trucks on heavily traveled routes, and there are tens more billions coming into the effort from private industry.


Trucking companies and the fossil fuel industry are not taking the new rules quietly. The oil industry has vowed to challenge the rules in court. And trucking industry interests are jawboning their congressional supporters. “We are concerned that the final rule will end up being the most challenging, costly and potentially disruptive heavy-duty emissions rule in history," says Jed Mandel, president of the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Assn., while maintaining that truck manufacturers "are committed to a zero-emission future" for trucking.

The new rules also impact the bus industry. The American Bus Assn. says it supports climate initiatives that "gradually" move the U.S. toward a cleaner environment, but the EPA’s rules are a "forced march towards electric vehicles" that could potentially double equipment costs for the motorcoach industry.

Environmental groups say they have heard it all before. "There's nothing new about polluting industries trying to avoid having to clean up," says Laura Kate Bender of the American Lung Assn., calling some of the industry claims about costs "outrageous" and untrue.

The trucking business has the technology to comply. The question is how quickly, with government mandates and support, truck makers can scale production at affordable costs. Goods move through the U.S. in semi-trucks, and great disruption to those supply and cargo chains could create everything from product shortages to much higher prices for goods, both of which will make public officials unpopular at election time.

The EPA does not expect any significant sale of zero-emission sleeper cab semi-trucks until 2030, and even then, they would be a small percentage of the fleet. Trucks that travel shorter routes, however, in the smaller weight and cargo classes are expected to shift toward zero-emission models faster.

About the Author(s)

David Kiley

Senior Editor, WardsAuto

David Kiley is an award winning journalist. Prior to joining WardsAuto, Kiley held senior editorial posts at USA Today, Businessweek, AOL Autos/Autoblog and Adweek, as well as being a contributor to Forbes, Fortune, Popular Mechanics and more.

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