White House issues emission standards for heavy-duty trucks

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line staff writer | 8/16/2016

The federal government on Tuesday, Aug. 16, issued standards for medium and heavy-duty vehicles that will require a decrease of up to 25 percent in greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption.

In a joint effort between the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation, the plan promised to lower emissions by 1.1 billion metric tons, to save vehicle owners fuel costs of $170 billion, and to reduce oil consumption by as much as 2 billion barrels over the lifetime of the vehicles sold under the program. The vehicle and engine performance standards will cover model years 2018-2027 for certain trailers and model years 2021-2027 for semi-trucks, large pickup trucks, vans and all types of buses and work trucks.

“These vehicles currently account for about 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and oil use in the U.S. transportation sector, and this percentage is growing,” said Gina McCarthy, administrator of the EPA. “But there are significant opportunities available to us now and in the near future to leverage new technologies and foster innovation to increase efficiency and decrease emissions. These rules tap into this potential.”

The standards are the second phase of President Obama’s call to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and address climate change.

Estimates indicate the cost increase of the new trucks could be as much as $14,000 each. The cost increase of a trailer could be as much as $1,400.

Anthony Foxx, secretary of the Department of Transportation, said that the savings in fuel costs will make up for the increase and that it will eventually provide a boost to the entire economy. 

“This is going to be a net savings to operators of these heavy-duty and medium-sized trucks,” Foxx said. “They are going to be able to get places using less fuel, which has a bottom-line impact on the cost of goods, for example, or the price people pay at grocery stores.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, however, contends that the federal government is acting before a proven technology is in place.

“All the promises of rapid returns are predicated upon the hope that the truck will actually work and be reliable,” said Scott Grenerth, OOIDA regulatory affairs director. “And while the agencies did make some remarks acknowledging the fact that they had to respect the need of reliability and durability, the final proof will be there only if we have trucks that truly operate reliably. They’re making predictions and assumptions about technology and are expecting that they will really work and be reliable as promised.”

Instead of expensive mandates, OOIDA believes that the market should drive fuel efficient technologies. Grenerth said once a reliable technology is introduced that can reduce fuel costs as much as is being claimed, a regulation would not be needed to get truck owners to buy in.

“There’d be a line out of the dealership,” he said. “They’d be backed up on the interstate on trucks trying to get to the dealership to trade in their old trucks for these great new trucks.”

OOIDA echoed Grenerth’s thoughts in its public comments regarding the proposal in October 2015.

“If there was affordable and reliable technology which improved fuel efficiency by 24 percent over the 2017 baseline, there would be no need of a mandate, as truck drivers would be more than willing to purchase such equipment.”

OOIDA also believes training drivers in a manner that promotes fuel efficiency is a commonsense solution.

“Driver training offers potential savings for the trucking industry that rival the savings available from technology,” OOIDA wrote. “Indications are that this could be one of the most cost-effective and best ways to reduce fuel consumption and increase fuel productivity of the trucking sector.”

“The Association’s view is that the best way to achieve good fuel economy is a well-trained driver,” Grenerth said. “That, to me, is much more common sense than a 1,690-page regulation.”

OOIDA – along with 13 other trade associations that include the American Trucking Associations, the Truckload Carriers Association and the American Bus Association – raised concerns about the new standards in a recent letter to the EPA and the DOT.

“We should heed lessons learned from recent history,” the associations wrote. “When EPA mandated new engine technologies effective in 2007, fleets held off buying new vehicles. The end result was that more environmentally friendly vehicles were not introduced into fleets, and jobs at U.S. heavy-duty commercial vehicle manufacturers, suppliers and dealers suffered significantly. We do not want to see this situation played out again.”

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