Ford, Cummins and others break with industry to support strong EPA truck rule

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The EPA is currently finalizing new rules to limit truck emissions, and a group of manufacturers including Ford, Cummins, BorgWarner and Eaton has broken with the industry to support the upcoming “Phase 3” heavy duty emissions rules, while the rest of the industry, led by Volvo and Daimler, continues to lobby against them.

The group of four companies calls itself the Heavy Duty Leadership Group (HDLG), and is launching its effort today to throw its influence behind a strong EPA Phase 3 truck rule.

The new rules have been in the works for some time now and are set to be finalized soon. They would build on EPA’s Phase 1 and Phase 2 truck rules implemented in 2011 and 2016, and would strongly reduce emissions for heavy duty vehicles. The rules would start applying to vehicles in model year 2027, gradually becoming more stringent over time.

The HDLG is formed of “companies of the willing” who have committed to reducing emissions, and each of them has skin in the game in terms of decarbonization of transport – Ford and Cummins produce electric trucks and powertrains, Eaton will be one of the largest suppliers of electrical transformers, and BorgWarner is heavily invested in hydrogen delivery.

The group’s statement of principles covers 6 points:

  1. The HDLG Companies support EPA’s ongoing efforts to achieve further de-carbonization in the transportation sector through a sound, achievable HD Phase 3 GHG rule that starts in MY 2027. The HDLG companies do not support proposals to delay the start of EPA Phase 3 HD GHG until MY 2030 or later.
  2. Each of the HDLG Companies has made public commitments to reduce its carbon footprint by aggressively cutting GHG emissions with near-term milestones and long-term net zero goals. These corporate sustainability principles underpin our support for finalization of an EPA Phase 3 GHG rule with urgency and not later than March 31, 2024.
  3. EPA should make a commitment in the final rule to conduct periodic Technical Assessments of a wide range of factors directly related to the pace of adoption of Zero Emission Tailpipe HD technologies, including: battery technology advancement, availability, and affordability; critical mineral sourcing and cost; deployment of an extensive and available charging/fueling network, supporting electrical grid and fuel infrastructure, and other factors. 
  4. Long-term technology-neutral regulations provide industry with the confidence to deploy capital and resources that will result in high-quality job growth and technology leadership, which are critical in the de-carbonization of the transportation sector. The HDLG companies trust EPA to consider proposing future revisions through new rulemaking, if triggered by any major changes to the factors evaluated in EPA’s Technical Assessments, but the HDLG Companies are opposed to proposals for a “hard-wired off ramp” triggered by an infrastructure development or similar metric.  
  5. Multiple technology pathways exist and must be considered in a technology-neutral manner to achieve EPA’s performance-based HD Phase 3 GHG standards. These solutions include hybrid powertrains; advanced engine technologies; hydrogen combustion; and electric and hydrogen zero tailpipe emission propulsion systems.  To ensure technology-neutral, performance-based, standards, EPA should make a regulatory commitment within the Phase 3 Final Rule to propose near-term technical amendments to streamline hybrid certification test procedures.
  6. Achieving the Administration’s ambitious GHG reductions in the HD sector will require a “Whole of Government “approach involving DOE, DOT, EPA, and other Federal, state, and local government agencies working with the private sector to ensure that IRA and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds are wisely invested across the U.S. economy to leverage a commercially viable HD infrastructure, which accelerates the adoption of zero-emission commercial vehicles.

Here, “off-ramp” refers to industry efforts to water down the Phase 3 rules with mandatory infrastructure checkpoints which, if not met, would invalidate the whole rule. The group opposes those off-ramps, and opposes delays in implementation of the rule.

To these companies, the most important point is regulatory certainty – after the previous administration was so committed to arbitrary & capricious rulemaking, leading to regulatory whiplash, this seems like something that the HDLG would like to avoid.

The phase 3 rule is otherwise being lobbied against by the Truck and Engine Manufacturers’ Association (EMA), a major lobbying group that represents truck manufacturers. The EMA wants to push the rule’s implementation back, and add “off-ramp” language allowing the rule to be scrapped if certain timelines are not met.

The group has quite an extensive member list, oddly including some manufacturers that have committed heavily to electric trucks, like Volvo, Daimler and GM (and even Cummins, who are a member of both HDLG and EMA).

Volvo Group North America and Daimler Truck North America seem to have taken particular interest in this rule, and are using the EMA to lobby against it. But despite lobbying against stronger rules, they still claim publicly to be fully committed to electric trucks. Quite the disconnect. Hmm.

One company that isn’t a member of the EMA, though, is Ford. Ford used to be a member, but broke with the group in 2022 after EMA lobbied against California’s low-NOx regulations.

Since then, EMA has made an agreement with California, signed on to by almost all of the companies mentioned in this article so far, to stop lobbying against clean air rules in exchange for some reasonable compromises. But soon after that agreement, other entities in the trucking industry took up the flag of opposition and are suing the state for the right to poison you and their employees.

Ford was also one of the companies which, along with BMW, Honda, and VW, announced support for California’s emissions regulations in 2019, while the republican-led EPA unsuccessfully tried to force dirty air on the state.

Meanwhile, Cummins recently got in big trouble with both the federal government and California, with a $2 billion penalty for violating emissions regulations with its diesel engines, echoing shades of the famed “dieselgate” scandal which VW and many other auto companies were involved in.

The HDLG doesn’t intend to stop with just these four companies though, and the group welcomes other companies to commit to its statement of principles and join their commitment to a path to decarbonizing the transportation sector.

Electrek’s Take

The one part of this “statement of principles” I worry about is point 5, which mentions “technology neutral” regulations that include “advanced engine technologies” (as if those even exist) and “hydrogen combustion” and other various watering-down of the goals of zero emission trucking. This sort of language has been used by industry many times in order to slow progress, so it’s a little troubling to see it here.

Hydrogen combustion, in particular, is troubling as it is currently counted as zero emissions by the EPA, but it really is not zero emission at all. Virtually all hydrogen produced today comes from fossil fuels (so-called “blue” hydrogen), not from cleaner sources like electrolysis of water (“green” hydrogen, aka, the better kind).

HDLG thinks it can be used to reduce emissions in the short-term while hydrogen infrastructure is built up to service future fuel cell vehicles. This could be a fair point, if we think hydrogen will ever become a viable transportation fuel (for consumer vehicles, likely not, but for heavy duty vehicles, it might find a useful niche).

However, the Union of Concerned scientists calls hydrogen combustion a “dead end” and a “bridge to nowhere,” and says the EPA must close the hydrogen combustion “loophole” and leave it out of the HD phase 3 rules.

That said, regarding the “technology neutral” language, EPA’s recent car rules were also written in a technology-neutral manner, and in that case, I consider this a real strength of those particular rules. Instead of proscribing a particular path to get to emissions reductions, the EPA rules center emissions reductions as the matter of first importance, and allow companies to use whatever methods they can to get to the stated goals. If you can somehow make a gas car 4x more efficient, then so be it – it’s just that, well, you can’t, so you’re probably going to end up going electric anyway, which we all know is where things are going so why is everyone trying to fight it anyway.

But keeping things technology neutral does still open up other clever options, like electric trailers, which can be done to immediately reduce a fleet’s emissions without having to modify any engine components whatsoever. Solutions like that may not be the end-all of zero emission trucking, but can help us fill the gap on the way to a zero emissions future.

So while I’m still a bit wary of the “technology neutral” language, and particularly the mention of “advanced engine technologies” and hydrogen combustion, I’m willing to take this move as an overall positive, since it can be rare to see industry supporting regulations, and here we have an example of some big players throwing their weight behind better emissions rules. So that’s nice to see.

Now, if only Volvo and Daimler could embrace the new rule instead of lobbying against them, and act like the zero-emission leaders they claim to be publicly, we could start making some progress on this “regulatory certainty” that companies are supposed to be so fond of.

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