Senate Upholds Biden Veto of Measure to Roll Back EPA’s Truck Pollution Rule

Senate Upholds Biden Veto of Measure to Roll Back EPA’s Truck Pollution Rule
Trucks drive through the Port of Oakland in Oakland, Calif., on March 31, 2023. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Bill Pan

Senate Republicans on June 21 didn’t get the two-thirds majority support they needed to save their resolution to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from enforcing its new air pollution rules for heavy-duty trucks.

President Joe Biden vetoed the measure the previous week. The Republicans’ attempt to override Biden’s veto got only 50 affirmative votes in the Senate, including one from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who’s traditionally energy friendly.

The vetoed resolution, sponsored by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), narrowly squeaked through the Senate in April by a 50–49 vote, with Manchin siding with Republicans and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who would have likely voted against it, being absent. It passed the House in May by a vote of 221–203.

Under the EPA rule finalized in December 2022, new heavy-duty trucks and engines, starting in 2027, will have to meet a set of stricter-than-ever standards to slash emission of air pollutants, particularly nitrogen oxides, which can react with oxygen to create ground-level ozone or smog.

It applies to trucks of sizes ranging from Ford F-250 pickup trucks to semi-trucks.

The rule is the Biden administration’s latest move toward implementing its Clean Trucks Plan, an “ambitious agenda” that the EPA stated would move America’s “highly polluting” heavy-duty trucking fleet toward “low-carbon and electric technologies.”

The EPA projected an annual $29 billion in net economic benefits from the changes, claiming that implementing the rule will also result in many public health benefits by 2045, including preventing up to 2,900 deaths, 6,700 hospital and emergency room visits, and 18,000 cases of childhood asthma every year.

Republicans remained unconvinced. They pointed to the extra transportation cost associated with the changes, arguing that the restrictions on trucking would only make average Americans’ lives harder, since almost every product is at some point transported by a truck.

Heavy Costs for New Technology

The EPA estimated that the technology required to meet the new rule’s standards will cost between $2,568 and $8,304 for every new vehicle, although the American Truck Dealers Association estimated that the regulatory mandates would add about $40,000 to the price of a new truck.

“When you force truckers to purchase new, expensive equipment, in the name of climate, you are asking the American people to foot the bill,” Fischer said on the Senate floor before the June 21 vote. “Any product transported by trucks—whether that’s food headed to your local grocery store or something that you bought off Amazon, each one of these products will cost more due to massive inflationary burdens this rule will place on the trucking industry.”

“Every agriculture producer and every local business will feel its effects. If you’re an [sic] [agriculture-] or energy-heavy states like Texas, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, or Illinois, Nebraska, California, or Montana, your local economy will be especially impacted by these higher freight costs. That’s not to mention the 3 million Americans who work as commercial truckers.”

She also argued that the EPA rule might not even be able to achieve its stated goal to reduce air pollution, considering that businesses will likely hold on to their older, higher-emitting trucks as the price of newer vehicles shoots up.

“The administration is making an ineffective climate statement at the expense of millions of Americans’ livelihoods,” Fischer said.

Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, argued that the standards are manageable and made with the stakeholders’ interests in mind.

“These standards are achievable, and they provide predictability for industry, which the blunt tool of the CRA would undercut,” he said. “EPA listened to a range of stakeholders during the rulemaking process and finalized standards that are feasible and cost-effective for manufacturers and fleet operators.”

If the Republicans’ effort succeeded, Carper warned, it would set a precedent and “prevent the agency from ever issuing similar standards in the future.”