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July 30, 2020 12:30 PM, EDT

EPA’s National NOx Proposal Headed for Another Delay

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There is mounting evidence that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s low oxides of nitrogen proposed rule, already months behind schedule, will not be completed until after the November elections, according to trucking industry and environmental group sources.

“A proposed rule was expected to be unveiled in September until COVID-19 forced the closure of EPA labs and research facilities,” said Glen Kedzie, environmental affairs counsel for American Trucking Associations. “Washington insiders also feel that releasing a major environmental regulation at this time presents contradicting optics for an administration that touts its deregulatory efforts as a major political accomplishment.”

EPA first announced plans for its Cleaner Trucks Initiative to develop a new NOx emission standard in November 2018, posting an advance notice of proposed rulemaking in January and seeking comments from stakeholders.

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Plans for the new NOx regulation called for EPA to work with the California Air Resources Board technical staff to create a “harmonized” standard for all 50 states.

However, the CARB board has jumped ahead of EPA and its board is set in late August to begin consideration of the agency’s proposed NOx and particulate matter emissions reduction rule that will take effect in 2024. EPA is planning its NOx regulation to take effect in 2027.

Now word is spreading over the uncertain target date for EPA’s proposed rule.

Jed Mandel, president of the Truck & Engine Manufacturers Association, said he has heard that EPA needs more time to get the rule done right.

“The closure of EPA’s lab and OEM labs, because of the COVID-19 crisis, has not allowed for the normal data development process,” Mandel told Transport Topics. “The notice of proposed rulemaking originally was targeted for May, and then that slipped to September. There now is further slippage.”

EPA has declined to comment on whether the rule would be out before or after the election.

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An EPA spokeswoman, recently asked about the timing for release of the proposed rule, would only say, “Administrator [Andrew] Wheeler personally launched this initiative. It’s absurd to suggest he would abandon it. Staff work continues on the proposal.”

No one interviewed for this story even suggested EPA would abandon the regulation.

ATA and other industry stakeholders have supported EPA, working with CARB staff, taking the lead in developing a 50-state standard as opposed to California establishing a de facto national standard and implementation schedule, ATA’s Kedzie said.

“More clarity on the path forward will be determined by the results of this year’s election,” he added.

Dave Cooke, senior vehicle analyst in the Clean Vehicles Program for the Union of Concerned Scientists, also said he had been notified of delays in the program.

“I knew that their schedule had been slipping because each day there has been a lot of lab research that they weren’t doing,” Cooke told TT. “Obviously, many folks are working from home these days, and there has been some general slowdowns in getting that research done.”

Cooke thinks there are elements of both the pandemic and political realities responsible for the schedule slip.

He added that the heavy-duty trucking industry has been concerned about stability, especially since the EPA in March rolled back car emission standards set by the Obama administration.

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“The industry wants to make sure that whatever the rule is, is justifiable, and that they can be guaranteed it won’t change,” Cooke said. “So there is that political side of it.”

Michael Geller, deputy director of the Manufacturers of Emission Controls Association, said he understands that the proposed rule could be delayed until next year because everyone is trying to sort out when things will come back to normal due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I know that the whole COVID-19 lab shutdown is definitely a real thing for the EPA,” Geller said. “They haven’t been doing a lot of testing that they need to do. And I know that the industry has been affected by this as well. I think there’s been a lot of back and forth between them [OEMs] and the regulators, and that’s been difficult.”

Luke Tonachel, director of Clean Vehicles and Fuels Group for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “I’ve similarly heard that EPA plans to take more time on the NOx rule proposal.”

Cindy Sebrell, vice president of communications for the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, said she, too, is aware of the delay.

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