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California survives challenge to its low-carbon fuel standards

Dave Wickenhauser on Mon, January 28, 2019

Last Updated: Mon, February 4, 2019

California survives challenge to its low-carbon fuel standards

Appeals against California's low-carbon fuel standard by transportation industry interests failed this month at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals level.

The regulation, which became law in 2006, and went into effect January 1, 2011, is the State of California's attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the transportation industry. The law was passed by the California Legislature, and is implemented by the California Air Resources Board.

Claiming a violation of the federal Commerce Clause, the appeal was brought by farm trade groups, fuel producers and the American Trucking Association. Their claim was that California's regulation violated interstate commerce by attempting to control commerce originating from outside the state.

Judges in the case stood on their belief that the state legislature reasoning behind the stricter California standard was concern that climate change, and particularly global warming, presented a risk to California.

“With its long coastlines vulnerable to rising waters, large population that needs food and water, sizable deserts that can expand with sustained increased heat, and vast forests that may become tinderboxes with too little rain, California is uniquely vulnerable to the perils of global warming,” the judges wrote.

Undeterred by the concerns of those who made the appeal, 9th Circuit Court judges recommended that California legislators continue to look into ways to further curb emissions.

“California should be encouraged to continue and to expand its efforts to find a workable solution to lower carbon emissions, or to slow their rise,” the appeals court said. “If no such solution is found, California residents and people worldwide will suffer great harm. We will not at the outset block California from developing this innovative, nondiscriminatory regulation to impede global warming.”

The judges noted that CARB was merely acting to reduce California’s rate of greenhouse gas emissions based on the finding of the State Legislature that “global warming poses a serious threat to the economic well-being, public health, natural resources, and the environment of California.”

The EPA's Cleaner Trucks Initiative

Meanwhile, outside California the federal Environmental Protection Agency is working on a new initiative to update its existing clean trucks regulations; which they expect to roll out in 2020 and fully implement by 2024.

Efforts to curb nitrogen oxide emissions from heavy duty diesel trucks during the period 2007 to 2017 have been successful to the tune of a 40-percent reduction, according to EPA spokesmen. But they add that there is "more work to be done."

That's because they estimate that by 2025 heavy duty diesel trucks will account for one-third of all NOx emissions by the transportation industry.

The EPA's efforts to curb those emissions will be taking a close look at requirements for on-board diagnosing, using modern and advanced technologies to aid with compliance, and looking at programs to implement annual engine recertification.

This federal agency action came about because of petitions submitted by 20 state and local government agencies asking the agency to update emission standards, as the last revision was back in 2000.

The EPA acknowledged that technology and manufacturing have increased beyond that necessary to meet the regulations from more than 16 years ago. The EPA will work closely with California's CARB in order to work out proposals for all 50 states, and to streamline compliance for manufacturers. This new effort is to be named the Cleaner Truck Initiative.

California spokespeople say they will welcome new EPA emission regulations as long as they are strict enough; claiming that more than half of the trucks that drive throughout California are registered in other states.

The Industry Speaks

John Mies, manager of corporate communications for Volvo Group North America, said his company supports the EPA further investigating whether further emissions regulations are needed.

“This is a great opportunity to update and streamline the certification and compliance processes, ensuring a focus on real-world emissions control with minimal impediment to market vitality,” he said.

Bill Sullivan, ATA’s executive vice president of advocacy, also supports the EPA for further investigating NOx standards, hoping that new national regulations will ease the burden of a myriad of individual state standards.

Jennifer Rumsey, vice president of diesel engine maker Cummins, Inc., agrees that more should be done to reduce emissions. She, too, hopes that new, streamlined regulations will help manufacturers develop more cost-effective, but lower-emission engine designs.

Jed Mandel, president of the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association, echoes the others. He stated that they have worked with the EPA in the past and are ready to do it again. He's optimistic that new national emission regulations will give engine manufacturers enough lead time for those manufacturers.

Sources: Transport Topics, Tank Transport Trader, EPA

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