Climate Priority #1 for Mexico in 2016: Adopt Strong Emissions Standards for Heavy-Duty Vehicles

The Mexican government has made a series of encouraging international commitments in the past two years to tackle climate change via limiting emissions in the country's transportation sector. A major component of that effort is the pending standard to regulate emissions from heavy duty vehicles—a standard that will bring economic and health benefits to Mexicans as well as mitigate climate-inducing air pollution. Unfortunately, although the standard—called NOM-044—was written with input from industry, civil society and academics, Mexico's Environment and Natural Resources Secretariat (SEMARNAT) is currently considering weakening it due to pressure from a segment of the industry.

At this point, there is simply no good reason to delay or weaken NOM-044, since all major stakeholders have signed off on its provisions and the Mexican fuel market will be ready for it. Weakening NOM-044 will only delay the health and climate benefits that the standard is expected to bring to the people of Mexico and impede Mexico's ability to meet its climate commitments.

Why is it so important for Mexico to clean up emissions from heavy duty vehicles?

First, the high amount of diesel exhaust spewing from these vehicles is creating a public health hazard, as the World Health Organization has categorized both diesel exhaust and outdoor air pollution as carcinogens. Second, the black carbon component of diesel exhaust is the second most powerful climate pollutant after carbon dioxide. That is why Mexico's Paris climate commitment includes a goal to reduce black carbon emissions by 51% below business-as-usual projections by 2030, and by 70% if international assistance is provided.

The Mexican government's own regulatory impact assessment for NOM 044 says it will:

  • Result in diesel engines that are 90- 95% lower in particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions.
  • Eliminate black carbon equivalent to 150 million metric tons of CO2 (GWP-100).
  • Allow Mexico to avoid more than 55,000 premature deaths.
  • Result in more than 120 billion USD in net benefits.

In fact, these calculations from 2014 are quite conservative, as vehicle sales have been 30% higher than the value used in the assessment. Benefits should increase accordingly. Adopting NOM-044 would bring economic and public health benefits to Mexicans, and go a long way towards helping Mexico reduce its emissions of a potent climate forcer.

The Back Story: Mexico's Heavy-Duty Vehicle Emissions Regulation

The Mexican government has been promising to improve its regulations of transportation emissions for years. The current standard regulating trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles, called NOM-044-SEMARNAT-2006, was put in place in 2006 and required Mexican diesel engines to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) 2004 emission standards or its European counterpart, called Euro IV. A parallel standard was adopted at the same time that required all diesel fuel sold in Mexico to be ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel (ULSD, with a maximum of 15 parts of sulfur per million) by 2008.

However, the national petroleum company, PEMEX, never made the necessary refinery upgrades to meet its 2008 requirement, arguing that, because ULSD is not required for EPA 2004 or Euro IV engines to operate properly, ULSD should not be required. They have instead advocated for a slower ULSD timetable to give Mexico time to adopt the more stringent emissions standards that require ULSD to be successful, such as the latest of U.S. and European standards, EPA 2010 / Euro VI.

Certainly, PEMEX had a point. ULSD fuels and vehicles with specific emissions-reducing technologies are contingent upon each other; both need to be in place in order to reap the benefits. Together, they can reduce harmful black carbon emissions by over 95%. In effect, Mexico adopted its ULSD requirement without concurrently adopting the appropriate emissions standards, creating a regulatory disconnect that has continued ever since.

NOM-044 Update: In December 2014, SEMARNAT proposed an updated version of NOM-044, which would finally require Mexican diesel engines to meet the EPA 2010 standard and end this regulatory disconnect. This updated NOM-044 would require EPA 2010 or Euro VI heavy-duty vehicles and engines to be sold in Mexico as of January 1, 2018. Since then, SEMARNAT has received input from industry, civil society, academics and international expert, resulting in a strong regulation. At this point, SEMARNAT need only publish NOM-044 for it to become final.

ULSD Regulation Update: At the same time, Mexico's Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE) published a temporary, six-month fuel quality standard in October 2015, called NOM-EM-005-CRE-2015, mandating that all diesel imports and all diesels sold in the three largest metropolitan areas plus 11 corridors across the country are ULSD. This will cover 70 % of the national demand. It also states that 100% of on-road diesel supply must be ULSD by July 1, 2018. CRE is currently working on a permanent standard to replace this temporary one. In addition, PEMEX has already begun to upgrade its refineries to be able to produce ULSD. The company says it will be ready to comply with the CRE standard's requirement of 100% ULSD by July 1, 2018.

With the ULSD fuel supply in place, there is no good reason to delay or weaken NOM-044. Together, the new fuel standard and NOM-044 will transform Mexico's heavy duty vehicles into a world-class fleet.

The Current Challenge to NOM-044

One segment of industry has been pushing SEMARNAT to weaken NOM-044 at this final hour, arguing that the standard should instead require EPA 2007 / Euro V, so as to provide a transition phase before EPA 2010 / Euro VI are required. This argument does not make much sense, and here's why:

  1. Because EPA 2007 was an interim phase and not a regulatory stage, there are no commercially available EPA 2007 vehicles. Thus the whole market would transition to Euro V, a flawed standard that has allowed high NOx emissions and much PM emissions.
  2. Prolonging the transition to EPA 2010 / Euro VI from NOM-044's current time-table would imply a significant delay in the finalization of the standard and would likely also result postponing pending light-duty standards.
  3. Prolonging the transition to EPA 2010 / Euro VI from NOM-044's current time-table would also consequently delay both Mexico's efforts to combat climate change as outlined in its international commitments, and harmonization of the U.S. and Mexican vehicle and engine markets.

Any delay or weakening of the proposed NOM-044 is unwarranted and is a major step backwards for a critical regulation from a climate and health perspective. By adopting NOM-044 as currently written and as quickly as possible, Mexico's environmental authorities will be taking an important step in fighting climate emissions and protecting the health of Mexican citizens for decades to come.