EPA Proposes New Rules for Large Trucks in Bid to Reduce Emissions Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

EPA Proposes New Rules for Large Trucks in Aim to Reduce Emissions

The EPA has joined the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in proposing standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles that would improve fuel efficiency while cutting carbon pollution.  

The proposed standards, released on June 19,  are expected to lower CO2 emissions by approximately 1 billion metric tons, cut fuel costs by about $170 billion, and reduce oil consumption by up to 1.8 billion barrels over the lifetime of the vehicles, according to the government.

That savings would be equal to the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with energy use by all U.S. residences in one year.

The total oil savings under the program would be greater than a year’s worth of U.S. imports from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). 

In fact the proposal is so important that, according to an article in the New York Times, this would be quite an accomplishment for the President.

David J. Friedman, deputy administrator at the traffic safety agency, who said in an interview this month that the new truck rules could stand as “one of the president’s signature achievements.” He said big trucks had an “outsize impact” on greenhouse gases because of the millions of miles they travel, while still getting relatively paltry fuel economy.

According to a person with knowledge of the proposal, the rule will apply to trucks built between 2019 and 2027, and is expected to achieve reductions of about one billion tons of greenhouse gases.

It will require truck manufacturers to increase their fuel efficiency by about a third, up from the current average of about six miles a gallon. The E.P.A. estimates the cost of improving vehicle fuel efficiency technology will be $10,000 to $12,000 a vehicle for the largest trucks, and somewhat less for smaller trucks, but it estimates that those costs will be recouped by fuel savings in less than two years.

These extra costs are not welcome by all. The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) and American Truck Dealers (ATD) released the following statement.

“Affordable transportation is the bedrock of the American economy, and adding -- by the Administration's own estimate -- an average of $12,000 to the cost of a new truck through mandates based on potentially untested technologies is a great risk to a still-fragile economy. 

Recent history has shown that mandates with underestimated compliance costs result in substantially higher prices for commercial vehicles, and force fleet owners and operators to seek out less-expensive and less fuel-efficient alternatives in the marketplace. The costs could even drive small fleets and owner-operators out of business, costing jobs and only further impeding economic growth. While supportive of affordable fuel-economy improvements, ATD is closely reviewing the proposal and the many potential impacts it will have on truck dealerships and their customers.”

Medium- and heavy-duty vehicles are the target of this rule as they  currently account for about 20% of GHG emissions and oil use in the U.S. transportation sector, but only comprise about 5% of vehicles on the road, according to the government. Globally, oil consumption and GHG emissions from heavy-duty vehicles are expected to surpass that of passenger vehicles by 2030.

Additionally, the proposed standards are:

  • Grounded in rigorous technical data and analysis.
  •  Reflect extensive outreach with industry and other stakeholders.
  • Rely on cost-effective technologies to enhance fuel efficiency and reduce GHG emissions that are currently available or in development.
  • They do not mandate the use of specific technologies. Rather they establish standards achievable through a range of technology options, and allow manufacturers to choose those technologies that work best for their products and for their customers. (These technologies include improved transmissions, engine combustion optimization, aerodynamic improvements and low rolling resistance tires). 
  • Phased in over the long-term, beginning in model year 2021 and culminating in standards for model year 2027 – giving manufacturers the time and flexibility to plan.
  • Flexible, allowing banking and trading emissions credits for most manufacturers, and providing the opportunity for businesses to choose the most cost-effective path to meeting the standards.

The agencies are also proposing efficiency and GHG standards for trailers for the first time. The EPA trailer standards, which exclude certain categories such as mobile homes, would begin to take effect in model year 2018 for certain trailers, while NHTSA’s standards would be in effect as of 2021, with credits available for voluntary participation before then. Cost effective technologies for trailers – including aerodynamic devices, light weight construction and self-inflating tires – can significantly reduce total fuel consumption by tractor-trailers, while paying back the owners in less than two years due to the fuel saved.  

This proposal is in addition to the  fuel efficiency and GHG emissions standards already in place for model years 2014-2018, which is expected to  result in emissions reductions of 270 million metric tons and save vehicle owners more than $50 billion in fuel costs. The current standards have been successful, the government points out, with truck sales up in model years 2014 and 2015 due in part to improved fuel efficiency. 

According to the New York Times article the trucking industry is divided over the regulations.

Certain manufacturers, like Volvo and Freightliner, are skeptical of aspects of the proposal, particularly how engines would be evaluated along with entire trucks. Others, like Cummins and Wabash National, have lined up behind the agencies’ plans.

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