Editorial: Cleaning the Air While Easing the Rules

The notion that federal regulators could in one proposal move to strengthen clean-air standards while deregulating certain engine-related rules might seem counterintuitive, but it’s precisely what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set out to do.

While details are forthcoming, the agency last week announced that it will launch a rulemaking aimed at reviewing nitrogen oxide limits that have been on the books for 20 years. In this same proposal, it pledges to take a look at regulations for onboard diagnostics on trucks and engine recertification requirements for manufacturers.

It’s good to see regulators staying focused on further reducing emissions while keeping an open mind about whether existing rules might need to be revisited.

At a media event last week, acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler said the government’s “piecemeal” approach in recent years to imposing new regulations on heavy trucks has led to “costly and complex” requirements that do little to improve the environment. To be sure, over the past 10 years the trucking industry — including fleets, manufacturers and suppliers — has had to adapt to a lot of change as it relates to equipment. Trucks are cleaner than they’ve ever been, but these advancements have come with growing pains. Kudos to EPA for its willingness to take a second look.

The agency also deserves credit for remaining open to collaborating with the state of California on setting new nitrogen oxide limits. As it is wont to do, the California Air Resources Board has plans to set its own rule and is moving toward a standard that is 90% lower than current EPA limits. Wheeler in his comments acknowledged that California already has done some research on the matter but noted that the EPA initiative will provide a “50-state approach” to the issue.

While industry groups praised the move, an executive from American Trucking Associations noted that it might be a challenge for EPA and CARB to land on a common solution. Time will tell. But it’s good to see leaders at the federal level remaining open to — potentially — easing some regulatory requirements while remaining committed to maintaining the nation’s momentum on cleaner air. Looks like these two things can co-exist after all.