The recent decision by the EPA not to change the Jan. 1, 2010, implementation date for the final phase of its strict diesel engine emissions regulations most likely closes the book on any efforts to alter its timetable for good.
“If a Republican [presidential] administration isn't going to touch these standards with a 10-ft. pole, the incoming Democratic administration definitely won't,” Eric Starks, president of Nashville, IN-based consulting firm FTR Associates, told Fleet Owner. “Besides, the [trucking] industry's focus right now is more on the economy than on emissions. Even if the economy were to improve this year to the point where they could afford a pre-buy, there would not be enough time to order pre-2010 trucks.”
Truck and engine maker Navistar of Warrenville, IL, along with the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Assn. (OOIDA) in Grain Valley, MO, petitioned the EPA in November 2008 to offer what they dubbed an “economic exemption” allowing OEMs to continue building 2007 emissions-level engines after the 2010 standard goes into effect.
“We're proposing that the EPA allow manufacturers to keep building 2007 engines alongside the 2010-models — we're not talking about postponing the 2010 standards here,” Roy Wiley, head of Navistar's media relations department, told Fleet Owner. “We see this as a necessary response to the catastrophic economic situation out there, as a way to help small fleets and owner-operators.”
Navistar and OOIDA sponsored a study conducted by NERA Economic Consulting that found prices for Class 8 vehicles meeting the 2010 standard are likely to increase $7,000 to $10,000 per truck. As a result, both Navistar and OOIDA believe the timeline for the federal 2010 emissions standards for heavy-duty engines needs to be adjusted — largely to give truckers a chance to recover from the economic downturn.
“What we're trying to do here is help fleets, especially the smaller operators. We need to do something in light of this economic catastrophe; some government action is needed,” Wiley says.
The EPA, however, doesn't see it that way. “We finalized the rule several years ago [and] it is on track to have the final phase kick in by 2010,” Catherine C. Milbourn, the EPA's senior press officer, told Fleet Owner. “We do not plan to alter the rule.”
“EPA has clearly stated that it has no intention of changing the 2010 timetable, and it's counterproductive and misleading to suggest that the agency might change its mind in the 11th hour,” adds Per Carlsson, president and CEO of Volvo Trucks North America, Greensboro, NC, a division of Sweden's Volvo AB.
One reason the issue of an “economic exemption” to the 2010 emissions deadline came up at all revolves around the engine technology involved. Almost all of the heavy-truck engine makers (except Caterpillar, which is exiting the market in 2010) are using selective catalytic reduction (SCR) to reduce emissions down to the required levels.
Navistar is using an advanced form of exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) to comply with the rules; however, the company is phasing in its full advanced EGR system over two years, so it must use credits to comply with the mandate — credits it's generating now by having current model engines produce emissions lower than the 2007 standard. A delay in the 2010 standard, then, would've aided Navistar's technology implementation strategy.
On the other hand, the reason OEMs committed to SCR resisted delaying the 2010 standards centered around their need to begin generating a return on the major investments they've made to date to design, build and test engine platforms using SCR.
“With 2010 almost here, everyone's capital investments are already made and prototypes and testing are well underway,” Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Frederick, MD-based Diesel Technology Forum think tank, told Fleet Owner. “A delay would introduce uncertainty into the system now and delay returns on all those investments.”
He added that the reason he thinks most of the engine makers are going with SCR vs. Navistar's EGR path boils down to a combination of economics and efficiency. “Urea is relatively cheap and efficient to reduce NOx, and conceivably manufacturers could let engine-out NOx tick upward a little bit and treat it in the exhaust, which would increase miles per gallon. However, we'll have to see about that,” he explains.
Yet the non-SCR approach also draws on some strong positives. “It has confidence in high efficiency EGR and the clean-up catalysts and offers no need to worry about SCR refueling and associated tankage, extra weight, etc.,” Schaeffer says. “The net result is good for customers in that there is competition and choice in approaches and…also be good for clean air.”
FTR's Starks notes that truck owners seem less resistant this time around to both of the emissions reduction technologies being used.
“On the one hand, [truck owners] seem a lot more comfortable this time, especially due to fuel economy benefits being touted out there. Our sense is they'll stay away from purchases for a quarter [in 2010] to wait and see if there are any major glitches then roll into the market,” he explains. “On the other, there's just resignation. They know the standards, the technology and the costs are coming and there's nothing they can really do about them.”