Chain of Thought

EPA's GHG Regulations for Trucks Run Out of Gas

Leave it to the U.S. Government. With the country's debt rating downgraded for the first time ever, with the stock market convulsing in response to global economic conniptions, with unemployment still over 9% and those fabled “shovel-ready jobs” yet to materialize... what does the Obama Administration do in response? Nothing less than to impose new regulations on the entire trucking industry. Big trucks, little trucks, all trucks in between – anybody who owns truck will have to start saving their dollars (many, many dollars) to purchase new engines approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, as the EPA bids to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from all commercial vehicles.

According to the White House, “Certain combination tractors – commonly known as big-rigs or semi-trucks – will be required to achieve up to approximately 20% reduction in fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by model year 2018,” which is estimated to result in savings of up to four gallons of fuel for every 100 miles traveled.

“While we were working to improve the efficiency of cars and light-duty trucks, something interesting happened,” President Obama explains. “We started getting letters asking that we do the same for medium and heavy-duty trucks. They were from the people who build, buy and drive these trucks. And,” he adds, “I'm proud to have the support of these companies as we announce the first-ever national policy to increase fuel efficiency and decrease greenhouse gas pollution from medium-and heavy-duty trucks.”

Something else interesting happened that President Obama forgot to mention: He apparently forgot to listen to independent truckers, to hear what they had to say. If he had, he might have reworded his claim of support from “the people who build, buy and drive these trucks.”

“By totally ignoring the impact on small-business trucking, the EPA has demonstrated yet another example of our wretchedly broken regulatory process,” says Joe Rajkovacz, director of regulatory affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA). “Congress should take action when they return in September to rein in the bureaucracy and push forward regulatory reform legislation that has already been introduced.”

As far as OOIDA is concerned, the EPA “made an irresponsible mistake” in its regulatory analysis when it chose to exclude the impact on those who actually buy and drive large trucks and by focusing only on truck manufacturers. While large unionized trucking companies, such as Con-way and FedEx, are cited as being onboard with the EPA's new regs, OOIDA points out that 95% of all registered motor carriers in the U.S. operate 20 or fewer trucks.

Not surprisingly, the truck engine manufacturers themselves are applauding the new regulations. I realize that's a shocking development – that the companies with the most to gain happen to think these new regulations are a good thing. Executives at Navistar, Cummins and Eaton, among others, had plenty of nice things to say about the tighter engine standards. For instance, Tim Solso, chairman and CEO of Cummins, says, “This regulation and the process used to establish it are a model for how government and business should work together to meet energy, environment and economic goals.”

OOIDA's Rajkovacz, however, sees obvious oversights in the way EPA went about devising its new standards, saying that the EPA “totally overlooked the most effective fuel-savings method of all. Driver training, which is responsible for 35% of fuel economy and which costs far less than any new technology, should have been the priority.”

The new regulations, Rajkovacz adds, are “just another example of big moneyed interests working with government to protect their own bottom line. Instead of standing up for all motor carriers, regardless of size, the American Trucking Associations was out in front in their support of this regulation.”

Well, sort of. While Bill Graves, president and CEO of the ATA, did indeed come out in support of the new regs, he used the occasion to urge the passage of his own pet project – the implementation of a national speed limit of 65 mph for all vehicles. Graves also says the EPA regs are just a start, and that the government should focus on reducing congestion; provide incentives for technology that reduces idling while trucks are off the road; continue to support the EPA SmartWay program; and reform federal truck size and weight limits to allow the industry to operate its most productive and efficient vehicles. In other words, the ATA wants the government to allow bigger and faster trucks on the road.

OOIDA, meanwhile, contends that “large motor carriers use SmartWay participation in order to get compensation from shippers for appearing ‘green.' As a result, this rulemaking does not represent any cost increase to them. All new trucks sold to large fleets were likely already either fully SmartWay-certified or had incorporated most of the certified technologies used under this rule. OOIDA believes that EPA is taking credit to over-sell this rulemaking based on a business activity that is already occurring within large fleets.

“Small-business motor carriers and owner-operators don't enjoy this same benefit and will be forced to comply on their own dime,” says Rajkovacz.

And we're all left to guess as to who ultimately will end up paying for these new engines, via increased shipping costs. Though I'm sure we all have a pretty good idea.

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