White House targets trucks for fuel economy, natural gas

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 1/29/2014

Truckers waiting for the fallout from the first round of EPA fuel-economy standards for heavy trucks that got underway this year are concerned about the increasing cost of equipment. In his State of the Union address Wednesday, President Obama added some fuel to the fire by announcing a second round of EPA standards for trucks. The president also used the forum to promote natural gas.

“When we rescued our automakers … we worked with them to set higher fuel efficiency standards for our cars. In the coming months, I’ll build on that success by setting new standards for our trucks, so we can keep driving down oil imports and what we pay at the pump,” Obama stated in the speech.

Three years ago, in 2010, Obama ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to work with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to set the first-ever fuel-economy standards for heavy trucks. Those standards begin this year, and call for a 20 percent reduction in fuel consumption and emissions by model year 2018.

According to the EPA and NHTSA, who issued a final rule in August 2011, those standards will likely add $6,200 to the price of a new truck.

Obama’s speech on Wednesday targets the next round, and again it will include the EPA.

Truckers are once again concerned about the cost of equipment.

“As far as EPA’s interest in fuel economy, that’s pretty much a misguided effort,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said.

“Simple economics of trucking make optimizing fuel economy pretty much an all-consuming desire. If EPA has any effect on this at all, it’s simply going to muddle the marketplace by making trucks more expensive.”

Fuel economy wasn’t the only topic in the speech that perked up some ears in transportation.

Obama promoted natural gas to power road vehicles including trucks in the future.

“I’ll cut red tape to help states get those factories built and put folks to work, and this Congress can help by putting people to work building fueling stations that shift more cars and trucks from foreign oil to American natural gas,” Obama said.

Truckers are intrigued by the idea, but wonder when enough infrastructure will be in place to make it viable for their businesses.

“Natural gas will find its way into trucking operations as the fueling infrastructure makes itself available,” Spencer said. “That’s been the holdup from the get-go. While natural gas is different than diesel fuel, it certainly has benefits through reduced emissions. Idling would no longer be an issue, and I think that engines might even last longer with natural gas because it’s a cleaner fuel,” he said.

Speaking of infrastructure, Obama spoke of the need to improve roads, bridges and ports and to reduce traffic congestion. To pay for infrastructure, Obama suggested taxes and fees related to energy production from oil and gas.

Those are topics for the House and Senate as they prepare to write the next multiyear surface transportation authorization bill which is due in Congress later this year.

“The speech was recognizing political realities,” Spencer said. “It would have been nice to have more on infrastructure and a plan to move forward. But those are things that Congress has to sign off on.”

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