Diesel trucking and the poor, innocent children: The fight over EPA emissions regs

Updated May 15, 2023

When environmental activists talk about trucking, they often talk about diesel fumes spewed by faceless corporations and hurting, maybe even killing, innocent children.

As such, the level of their opposition to the trucking industry, to the fossil fuels industries, or to any of the carbon-intensive businesses that make American life possible rises to a rhetorical matter of life and death. Often enough trucks, if not truckers themselves, get painted into the death side of the equation. 

The EPA's recent virtual public hearings last week related to its Phase 3 greenhouse gas emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks saw no shortage of appeals to humanity, as the majority of testimony came from environmental groups, many of whom put heavy emphasis on young lungs. 

Numerous commenters from the Moms Clean Air Force group, focused on combating air pollution and climate change, spoke either in favor of EPA’s proposal or to push for something stricter.

Emily Pickett, with the group's Florida chapter, said her community recently received a “D” grade in the America Lung Association’s 2023 State of the Air report. “This is something we cannot ignore,” she said. Pickett noted that her house is just a few miles from I-75, “one of the busiest interstates for truck traffic,” she said. “The stark reality is that my family and I, and others, are at risk of dangerous air pollution” because of their proximity to the road.

She added that she and her family experience “persistent symptoms” that doctors diagnose as seasonal allergies, but she believes they “could very well be experiencing the ill effects of smog." Ultimately, Pickett believed that a transition to zero-emission vehicles will “make a significant impact” and “with cleaner trucks, we can decrease the prevalence of pollution-driven negative health effects,” she said.

Others who testified called on the agency to strengthen its Phase 3 proposal even more. 

Dr. William S. Beckett, a pulmonologist associated with Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said he has spent many years treating people with lung diseases and said “local air pollution most harms the health of people who live closest to highways.” He noted that the effects of pollution starts with exposure when a child is in the womb, affecting birth outcomes, and worsening as children get older. “The EPA needs to strengthen the proposal to eliminate tailpipe emissions from trucks,” he said.

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Additionally, Trisha Delloiacono with the Calstart nonprofit group, said the organization urges “EPA to adopt Phase 3 standards that are stronger than those proposed,” adding that the proposal “should be based on deeper penetration of ZEVs than those proposed.” She said that matching California’s Advanced Clean Trucks penetration rates should be the minimum level the agency considers.