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Blog Post | March 26, 2024

Take the Input of Polluting Liars for What it is Worth (Nothing) 

Take the Input of Polluting Liars for What it is Worth (Nothing) 

The Biden Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in the process of finalizing its Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Standards for Heavy-Duty Vehicles. The standard is a little known, but massively important, part of the process necessary to push industrial progression toward a cleaner future. 

Medium- and heavy-duty trucks, though constituting just four percent of on-road vehicles, make up 23 percent of the transportation sector’s total emissions—to deadly effect. The Clean Air Task Force has estimated that diesel vehicle emissions may have killed 8,822 people in 2023 and caused an additional 3,728 heart attacks, prompted 2,063 emergency room visits for asthma, and another 5,606 cases of acute bronchitis, which are themselves consequences disproportionately borne by marginalized and frontline communities. 

Adopting effective and comprehensive standards to significantly cut truck pollution is common sense—and decidedly in the public interest. The American Lung Association (ALA) even estimates that the cumulative benefits of adopting standards that would lead to zero-emission trucks and power by 2050 could save the country $735 billion in public health benefits from cleaner air, could see 66,800 fewer premature deaths, and could see 1.75 million fewer asthma attacks. 

Who could oppose such massive benefits?

Industry Opposition

The Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA) filed comments opposing the forthcoming standards in June of 2023, deriding the foundations of the proposal and intimating that the “EPA’s Phase 3 proposal will amount to an arbitrary, capricious and wholly unreasonable rulemaking.” This is, on its face, in very bad faith.

The EMA essentially claims that the EPA’s proposed standard is operating under the guidance of impossible timelines and with impossible technology, and further wants an “‘off-ramp’ allowing the standard to be scrapped if certain timelines are not met.” From start to finish, their argument is absurd. The technology for these fleets already exists among hundreds of different models on the market, and though it would require rapid—and significant—investment from manufacturers and carriers alike, its delineated goals are far from unattainable. In actuality, EMA is simply not concerned about technological ability or the nuances of mandated timelines. Instead, EMA is primarily concerned with its members’ capacity to engage in huge stock buybacks, as some EMA members did in 2023, and to protect their own huge profit margins. Polluters’ private profits aren’t (or shouldn’t be) regulators’ primary concern.

While EPA can and should evaluate fact-based arguments and information from a variety of stakeholders, it is not the job of the agency to cater toward, nor cave to, the demands of notorious polluters. Listed on EMA’s member rolls, for example, is Cummins, Inc., which agreed to a record-breaking $1.675 billion Clean Air Act (CAA) fine for “installing devices on hundreds of thousands of engines to allow them to emit excess pollution.” Another EMA member, Daimler Trucks North America, was issued a $30 million fine from NHTSA (with $15 million deferred) over failure to recall trucks or to comply with reporting requirements. In 2016, another Daimler subsidiary incurred a $28 million penalty from the EPA for Clean Air Act violations. 

At the end of the day, EMA is little more than a polluters’ front group organized to undermine climate action, even as member companies race to tout their (ultimately hollow) climate commitments. This is even apparent in the slate of corporate interests that the EMA has partnered with to attack the proposed standard, like the notorious fossil fuel groups the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM.)

API and AFPM also filed comments opposing the EPA’s proposed truck standard. The organizations essentially challenged the basic “legality of the standard’s focus on electrification” and further “advocated for modifications that would make the regulation less ambitious.” API also organized a July 2023 letter organizing opposition against the rule. 

API and AFPM are two of the most notorious polluter groups in the world, champions of climate denialism and “aggressive opposition” to climate action. Their membership rolls include many of the biggest polluters in the world. Indeed, five of the world’s largest polluters, Chevron, Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips, and Shell are all members of AFPM, API, or both) and all number in the top 13 of global polluters. Among “the five of them, since 2000, these companies have racked up an impressive $43,298,561,229 in total violations from U.S. government entities alone, with $39,130,333,431 of that representing cumulative fines associated with environmental violations. Another $821,978,261 represents these companies’ collective defrauding of the American taxpayer via government contracting violations. (Note: These numbers are compiled from the Good Jobs First Violation Tracker and can be found here for each Chevron, Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips, and Shell.)” 

State Level Action

Beyond what EPA announces in the coming days to address truck pollution at the federal level, there are other ways for smart policy to clean up truck emissions at the state level, which industry is also fighting to undermine. The Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) standard—now adopted by 11 states and counting—addresses medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sector pollution. ACT requires truck and bus manufacturers to sell an increasing percentage of ZEVs over time. As more states join the program, benefits build for cleaner air, a safer climate, and faster economies of scale for the clean truck industry. However, the same fossil fuel interests that are fighting the federal standard are using the same misinformation at the state level to try to sabotage responsible regulation across the country. 

Protect The Public Interest

If these vehicle and oil companies cannot be trusted to adhere to standing laws and regulations (which the numbers show they can’t), why should they be considered thought partners in its formation? 

In truth, be it Big Auto or Big Oil, hyper-polluting industries are not going to be voluntary partners in addressing the climate crisis, given that they caused it, and their existing profit margins remain predicated upon it. 

As we noted in November, “the EPA and other regulators in the field should endeavor to enforce the most robust regulatory regimes – structured to protect the people, public, and places that they are actually obligated to – regardless of the fits that industry will throw. After all, corporate crooks ought to be held to account and forced to comply with a regulatory framework that serves the public good, not bargained with in order to protect the pockets of shareholders.” 

The strongest standards possible are, objectively, the ones in the public’s best interest. We know that the new truck standards could represent progress to better protect our climate and our health. However, if the standards fall short of their potential, we know which companies and industries will be happy they made their voices heard.


Truck” by blachswan is licensed under CC BY 2.0.


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