DC Circuit Says Trailers Are Not “Motor Vehicles” | Hogan Lovells

On November 12, 2021, a split panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit at Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association, Inc. v. EPA, et al. ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) cannot regulate trailers as “motor vehicles”. The ruling concerned parts of the 2016 Phase 2 heavy-duty greenhouse gas rule issued by the EPA. As part of the Phase 2 rule, the EPA established greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emission standards for heavy trailers relying on its authority to regulate “motor vehicles”. As defined in the Clean Air Act. As part of the same rule, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) has issued fuel efficiency standards for trailers based on its authorization to regulate “medium to heavy commercial road vehicles”. The court concluded that neither action was admissible and struck down all parts of the rule that applied to trailers.

The court relied on the fact that the trailers do not have an engine and are not “self-propelled”. As a result, the court concluded that the trailers are not “motor vehicles” and do not fall under the regulatory authority of the EPA or NHTSA. The dissenting judge agreed with the majority that the EPA cannot directly regulate trailers, under its current statutory authority, but noted that the EPA could instead regulate tractors “including the types of trailers they are allowed to pull ”and could regulate the semi-trailer assembler to ensure that the assembled semi-trailers meet emission standards. However, the dissenting judge disagreed that NHTSA had exceeded its powers by issuing energy efficiency standards for trailers. Unlike the Clean Air Act, NHTSA’s enabling statutes do not define the term “vehicle” and the judge determined that the NHTSA reasonably applied a long-established definition that includes commercial trailers.

Look ahead

This decision regarding the scope of the EPA and NHTSA’s regulatory authority on “motor vehicles” will certainly inform the agencies’ approach to future rules on mobile source GHGs, as well as future court decisions. on the EPA’s power to set and enforce GHG emission standards under the Clean Air Act.

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