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Truck makers lobby to weaken U.S. climate policies, report finds

The transportation sector makes up <a href="https://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/fast-facts-transportation-greenhouse-gas-emissions" data-key="305">27% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions</a>. Of that percentage, medium and heavy duty trucks — everything from delivery vans to big rigs –- make up 26% according to an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions by the EPA.
Ian Mcdonnell
Getty Images
The transportation sector makes up 27% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Of that percentage, medium and heavy duty trucks — everything from delivery vans to big rigs –- make up 26% according to an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions by the EPA.

Truck manufacturers and an industry trade group privately lobbied to weaken U.S. climate policies while publicly promoting zero-emissions trucks, according to a new report from a think tank that tracks corporate influence on climate policy.

Climate watchdog InfluenceMap found trade group the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA) and companies Volvo, Daimler Truck, Volkswagen (Navistar), and PACCAR opposed climate policy on the federal and the state level while publicly promoting zero-emissions fleets.

Nationally, truck manufacturers lobbied against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency'srequirements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from heavy-duty truck models. The agency started phasing in new compliance and emissions standards in 2011. It's now developing new greenhouse gas requirements for heavy-duty engines and trucks that would be applied to model year 2030 trucks.

At the state level, the EMA led a lobbying campaign in several states to oppose the adoption of the Advanced Clean Truck rule (ACT), which originated in California. The rule gradually increases the percentage of electric truck sales over the coming years. California, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington have adopted the ACT.

The transportation sector makes up 27% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Of that percentage, medium and heavy duty trucks — everything from delivery vans to big rigs — make up 26% according to an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions by the EPA.

In November, the U.S. signed a non-binding global agreement committing to 100% new zero-emission medium and heavy-duty sales by 2040.

InfluenceMap found that while manufacturers privately oppose ambitious climate rules, they publicly promote zero-emissions fleets. The organization's report notes that Ford Motor and General Motors disclosed "less on climate policy than the other EMA truck makers analyzed."

Findings showed Ford and GM did not join an EMA lawsuit against the California Air Resources Board that would delay emissions from heavy-duty trucks. The two companies were the only ones analyzed in the report that did not join Partners for a Zero Emission Vehicle Future. That's a coalition of truck manufacturers, retailers, and trucking associations that opposes what it calls "a patchwork" of state regulations for getting to zero emissions.

The extent of lobbying

InfluenceMap analyst Kalina Dmitriew wrote the report based in part on previously unseen lobbying documents, including private emails and letters received through 33 public records requests across 11 states.

Dmitriew says she knew lobbying was taking place but the "sheer scale" and the extent of it was surprising. She says such an endeavor "really appears to be a strategic, and coordinated effort across multiple U.S. states."

InfluenceMap's report identified the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association as spearheading lobbying efforts especially on ACT rules.

In an email, EMA President Jed Mandel wrote that his group is "committed to a zero-emissions future for the U.S. trucking industry, which is why manufacturers are investing billions of dollars, developing groundbreaking zero-emission technologies and commercial vehicles, and working to ensure that federal and state regulations are workable and effective."

Truck manufacturers are responding to regulatory demands. Federal policy requires the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from diesel vehicles. States that have adopted the ACT rule require manufacturers to build zero-emissions trucks.

Patricio Portillo, a senior advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, says the report shows some truck manufacturers can't be trusted. "The hypocrisy is frankly pretty outrageous," he says.

"What's unfortunate about this is that state and federal policymakers really look to (truck manufacturers) as valued stakeholders with important input," Portillo says.

Maine and Colorado have delayed adopting versions of California's ACT rule, and Portillo believes lobbying from truck manufacturers played a role.

"Rather than spending those millions to oppose clean truck rules, they should be investing (in) them," Portillo says. "Build the manufacturing and supply chains that are actually needed to get these vehicles to market into fleets and into these states that want to see the big significant benefits that can accrue from this rule."

Portillo says the regulations are not just good for the climate, but for local air quality. Medium and heavy duty trucks, he says, pass more frequently through low-income communities and communities of color, generating pollution.

Bob Ramorino is president of Roadstar Trucking in Hayward, California, and he wants to add electric trucks to his fleet of about 25 vehicles. He thinks the new regulations at the federal and state levels are challenging for truck makers to address at the same time.

"They have got to meet the challenge," Ramorino says, yet "they've got to remain profitable."

For Carlos Morales, who owns and operates a tractor-trailer in Richmond, California, stricter standards in the state could force him to leave the industry he's been a part of since 2003. Over the years Morales has upgraded his vehicle and bought new ones to meet changing emissions requirements.

"This may be my last truck," he says in Spanish. "The laws are very strict and really impact us." Morales says he's concerned he won't be able to buy an electric vehicle when the time comes.

Copyright 2022 KQED

Corrected: December 7, 2022 at 11:00 PM CST
In a previous version of the audio story, we incorrectly identified the number of states that have adopted the most stringent regulations to build and sell zero-emissions medium and heavy-duty trucks. The correct number is seven, not six, as of December 7, 2022. This updated story also clarifies that of these states, California has an additional goal that all trucks will be zero-emissions by 2045.