Commercial trailer manufacturers recently beat back a government overreach that attempted to dictate products designs.
Continuing what many perceive as anti-business regulations adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) during the Obama Administration, the pair of federal agencies sought to impose emissions regulations on trailer manufacturers. The rules these Washington, D.C., organizations created during that period were intended to reduce greenhouse gases involved in interstate commerce after the former president went on the record indicating all aspects of commercial motor vehicles were fair game “because large tractor-trailers account for 60 percent of the fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions from heavy-duty vehicles.”
Although the Obama Administration promulgated rules that effectively lowered exhaust pollution, the EPA and NHTSA apparently crossed a red line. They unilaterally decided any and all rules that could — theoretically — reduce C02 emissions were fair game. The Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association disagreed and launched a civil lawsuit in 2016. The basis of the court battle stemmed from the agencies’ attempts to create rules beyond their authority that would also result in excessively higher costs.
Newly manufactured trailers can run freight haulers between $25,000 and $50,000 each. Adding federally mandated design changes would likely spike costs. After years of protracted litigation, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit recently agreed with the trailer manufacturers.
“Trailers, however, have no motor. They are therefore not ‘motor vehicles.’ Nor are they ‘vehicles’ when that term is used in the context of a vehicle’s fuel economy, since motorless vehicles use no fuel. The (Obama administration’s) final rule relies on statutes that do not give the EPA and NHTSA authority to regulate trailers,” the three-judge panel ruled.
The Court of Appeals also reasoned that allowing the NHTSA to dictate trailer design regulations put the country on a slippery slope. After trailers, the “NHTSA could regulate bike racks, rooftop cargo carriers, or anything similar that would impact the fuel efficiency of a vehicle. NHTSA can regulate tractors based on the trailers they pull, as can the EPA. But neither NHTSA nor the EPA can regulate trailers themselves.”
While the majority of the panel handed the trailer manufacturers a commonsense win, Circuit Judge Patricia Millett filed a dissenting opinion. She argued that tractors and trailers were two parts of a commercial motor vehicle and, therefore, the Obama-era rules were lawful and valid.
She argued that a “‘vehicle’ is defined in other parts of pertinent federal law to include trailers. For example, the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act defines “motor vehicle” to include ‘vehicles’ that are ‘driven or drawn by mechanical power.’”
Interestingly, Judge Millett was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by Barack Obama in 2013.