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Tractor semi-trailer / heavy trailers: Federal Court of Appeal examines challenge to rule on greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency standards | Mitchell, Williams, Selig, Gates & Woodyard, PLLC


The United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit (“Court”) in a November 12 opinion challenged greenhouse gas emissions and fuel efficiency standards for engines and vehicles medium and heavyweight – Phase 2 (“Phase 2 rule”).

The Phase 2 rule was enacted on October 25, 2016. See 81 Fed. Reg. 73,478.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) had taken the position that it could regulate:

  1. Trailers as motor vehicles
  2. Trailer manufacturers as manufacturers of motor vehicles

The authority cited was 42 USC § 7521 (a) (1) and § 75501 (1), respectively.

The Court, in describing the purpose of the EPA rule, noted that a trailer is:

. . . rear part attached to a motorized tractor at the front.

Trailers include tanks, car carriers, forestry trailers, and platforms.

The Phase 2 rule marked the first time that the EPA and NHTSA set greenhouse gases and an energy efficiency standard for heavy trailers. Trailer manufacturers were required to adopt a combination of fuel-saving technologies, including:

  • Side skirts
  • Automatic tire pressure systems

The Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association, Inc. has filed a petition for review with the Court.

The Court analyzed the EPA’s use of Section 202 (ie “Title II”) of the Clean Air Act regulations. He concludes that the objects of the Title II regulations of the Clean Air Act must be self-propelled. Since trailers are not self-propelled, the EPA is considered unable to use § 202 (a) (1) to establish emission standards for trailers and require trailer manufacturers to comply with them. .

Likewise, the Court analyzed NHTSA’s use of the Ten-in-Ten Fuel Economy Act (“Act”). This law was enacted as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. See 81 Fed. Reg. at 73,519.

The law requires the NHTSA, in coordination with the EPA, to establish “fuel economy standards for” certain vehicles. See 49 USC § 32902 (b) (1).

The Court concluded that since a trailer does not use fuel, it is not fuel efficient. It specifies that in the statutory context of § 32902 that:

. . . nothing is a vehicle unless it has fuel economy – a measure of miles driven per gallon of fuel used.

Therefore, as in the case of the EPA, the court finds that the NHTSA does not have the power to regulate trailers.

A copy of the notice can be downloaded here.

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