Why UCS Supporters Are Pressing EPA to Let California Enforce Its Truck Pollution Rules

December 1, 2022 | 3:44 pm
A. Eyring/UCS
Dave Cooke
Senior Vehicles Analyst

California has a longstanding leadership role on transportation pollution, and the Clean Air Act grants the state the right to set strong vehicle emissions standards. In order to enforce those standards, the state must be granted a waiver by the Environmental Protection Agency, something which Congress makes very clear should be given under virtually all conditions.

California’s leadership on reducing truck pollution has been on full display the past few years, passing critical regulations requiring 90 percent reduction in smog-forming nitrogen oxide (NOX) emissions from diesel trucks and requiring manufacturers sell an increasing share of electric trucks to move away from fossil fuels altogether. But in order to enforce these important rules, the state is waiting on a waiver from EPA, a waiver that the fossil fuel industry and truck manufacturers are both opposing.

Over 10,000 UCS supporters chimed in with EPA in support of granting California’s ability to enforce its truck regulations. Below, I’ll walk through some of the reasons why this support is so strong.

Truck pollution exacerbates health risks

As a person in SoCal with asthma, cleaner air is especially important. as you probably know, pollution reigns in SoCal. We have some of the dirtiest air anywhere, and the only way it gets better is when the government steps in and limits the particulates and VOCs and other pollutants that companies can get away with. We need you to do even better!

Kay B., California

I have developed asthma as an adult and being in the vicinity of any diesel engine is enough to set me off, but the long-term health effects for all of us from the ambient particle pollution really cannot be overstated. Truck pollution is killing us, the planet, and it stinks.

UCS member, Oregon

I have asthma and it’s getting worse. So is the Asthma of many America[n]s. WE KNOW that carbon pollution like that from trucks is part of the problem.   Please help to make it easier for me to breathe and possibly save my life!

Mary R., New Hampshire

Diesel pollution is a known carcinogen, and particulate emissions like those from trucks have clear negative health impacts including heart disease and increased emergency room visits for cardiovascular problems. The direct emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOX) associated with truck pollution exacerbates asthma, and NOX leads to the formation of ozone, which shows clear evidence for reduced lung function and increased mortality.

These health risks mean that our freight sector is doing severe damage to the health of our nation, a cost of doing business that isn’t paid for by consumers but instead on the backs of the most vulnerable. We know the truck industry has a number of technological solutions to reduce its emissions, but we need regulators to take action to make it happen.

Freight traffic is on the rise, impacting the health and well-being of the communities through which these polluting trucks drive.

Communities across US are being inundated with dirty diesel truck traffic

As a resident of Kern County, CA, I plead with you, because we have terrible air, with so many, many semis traveling on HWY5 and 99.  Our new warehouses have brough[t] better paying jobs here, but the air is dangerous to our health.

Lucy C., California

I live on a busy route 116 in Bristol, Vermont. Every day countless heavy trucks pass by our house spewing exhaust fumes and particulates. Our air quality in Vermont is supposed to be good, but you can’t tell [that] by the dirt that accumulates on our exterior trim, and we breathe in those same particulates.

UCS member, Vermont

I live near Richmond, California, where fully half of the children — half — have asthma, due to the heavy truck traffic serving the Port of Richmond and the presence of a Chevron refinery. This is a disgrace, and a crime against these kids and their community[.]  Please approve all three waiver requests for California. Otherwise you’ll be sentencing these kids to an early grave.

Steve W., California

The voluminous body of evidence showing the health risk of truck pollution has not stopped freight corridors being disproportionately run through neighborhoods of color, meaning that these communities bear the brunt of our unjust and unequal transportation system.

Over the past decade, there has been a massive growth in warehouses, but this growth in jobs also leads to a massive increase in local freight traffic from diesel trucks. This explosive and seemingly never-ending growth has not gone unnoticed by our supporters, nor has the concurrent increase in dangerous pollution.

The compounded risk of increased exposure as described above from multiple sources of pollution, resulting from systemically racist land use policies, makes it even more critical for us to reduce truck pollution as rapidly as possible.

California is leading the way, but states are ready to follow

We in Colorado have many days of problematic ozone.  I fear for the health and wellbeing of my grandchildren.  We need every tool we can apply to gain healthier air.  Traffic is a major concern.  Please help us increase our means for reducing problematic air.

UCS member, Colorado

Please approve the three waiver requests from California for clean trucks. This is a crucial time to protect the ever worsening environment and other states are following California’s lead. Trucks are disproportionate polluters, compared to cars. We need cleaner trucks. Please let the states act.  Please authorize these rules and allow us to begin transitioning to cleaner air as soon as possible. States are ready to begin reducing toxic emissions from diesel trucks and transitioning to electric heavy-duty vehicles.

UCS member, Washington

While the waiver addresses California’s ability to enforce its rules, the Clean Air Act also allows other states the ability to adopt California’s policies. Five other states (including Washington) have already adopted some of California’s truck regulations at issue with this waiver, and others (including Colorado) are considering doing so.

Truck pollution is a national issue, and in the absence of federal leadership, states have taken the helm.

The nation needs rules as strong as California’s

I would prefer that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopt stronger federal regulations of tailpipe emissions from diesel trucks.  A second-best alternative is for states to adopt stronger standards, which can open the door to other states and eventually to federal regulation.

UCS member, Pennsylvania

In the currently-challenging political climate, we must take action where we can — and not kick the ‘can’ even further down the road!

UCS member, Florida

We worry about the cost of making those investments, but forget about the cost of doing nothing.… Let’s allow the states to set the example.

Emily C., Massachusetts

California moved forward with strong truck regulations because EPA has not updated its truck standards for over two decades. The state has shown leadership on this issue, but it shouldn’t just be Californians that benefit from the catalyzation of a market for electric trucks or the millions of dollars of research that have proven diesel truck emissions can be reduced by 90 percent even while we make the transition to a zero-emission freight sector.

EPA is right now considering whether to follow California’s lead. Industry has thus far been getting its way, to the detriment of communities of color, and EPA is balking at setting the type of evidence-based regulation that is needed to reduce the harm from diesel trucks to the maximum extent possible on a path to  eliminating on-road emissions from the freight sector altogether.

Even as our supporters push for states to be allowed to enforce the strong truck regulations necessary to clean up the freight sector, they’ve pushed for the feds to take the lead so that the quality and length of your life isn’t dependent upon what state you live in. We absolutely cannot continue to “kick the can even further down the road” – now is the time for leadership. So yes, we absolutely need EPA to finalize California’s waiver, as Congress intended—but it’s also time for EPA to step up and follow its obligations under the Clean Air Act to protect the public health and welfare of the country and follow the regulatory roadmap laid out by California to clean up the truck sector.