Joint Rulemaking Aims to Green the Trucking Industry

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New standards for heavy-duty trucks are expected to reduce emissions and allow the industry to keep on truckin’.

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Business and environmental interests recently found themselves on opposite sides of a courtroom, as they sparred over the Clean Power Plan—the Obama Administration’s cornerstone climate policy to cut carbon pollution from power plants. Dozens of utilities, energy companies, and other business interests united in opposition to the policy, while a large coalition of environmental groups argued in support of the rule. But beyond the courtroom doors, the battle lines are not so clear-cut.

Other pieces of the Administration’s climate plan have quietly been garnering support from industry and the environmental community alike. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), together with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) “worked closely” on recently finalized joint fuel-consumption standards for heavy-duty trucks and buses. The culmination of a three-and-a-half-year-long collaboration, these standards are aimed at promoting “a new generation of cleaner, more fuel efficient trucks” in an effort to curb the impacts of climate change.

Support for the standards is not limited to the trucking industry. Although some advocates in the environmental community think that the rules could go further, the Environmental Defense Fund hailed the standards as “rigorous and commonsense.” The BlueGreen Alliance—a coalition of environmental groups and labor unions—said the standards represented a good balance between reducing emissions and enabling job growth in the manufacturing sector. A coalition of major corporations, including Waste Management, Inc. and PepsiCo, also reportedly support the standards.

Building on earlier standards for heavy-duty trucks that only apply to vehicles manufactured from 2014 through 2018, the new rules set stricter fuel-efficiency requirements for heavy-duty vehicles—which include semi-trucks, large pickup trucks and vans, and buses and work trucks—that will be manufactured after 2018. Depending on the category a given heavy-duty vehicle falls into, vehicles will have to reduce their fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions by up to 25 percent when compared with a vehicle manufactured in 2017. The standards will be phased in, becoming increasingly stringent each year until 2027.

Together, the standards for heavy-duty trucks and buses are expected to decrease carbon dioxide emissions by over one billion metric tons, reduce oil consumption by up to two billion barrels, and slash fuel costs for vehicle owners by about $170 billion.

The White House stated that the standards’ anticipated reductions “are nearly equal to the greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy use by all U.S. residences in one year,” and that 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) each year.”

The joint standards’ expected effects stem from targeting a leading source of air pollution. Twenty-six percent of all U.S. greenhouse gases come from the transportation sector, and heavy-duty trucks are the second largest source of emissions within that sector.

That these rules have such wide support, at a time when regulated industries have opposed many of the regulations issued as part of the Obama Administration’s climate policy, speaks to a characteristic of fuel efficiency regulation: an increase in efficiency that lowers emissions also leads to cost-savings for the vehicle’s operator. According to the ATA, “fuel is still one of the top two operating expenses for most trucking companies”—even though fuel prices today are lower than several years ago.

Industry and environmental groups have also embraced the Obama Administration’s greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards for other types of vehicles. When EPA and NHTSA promulgated rules in 2012 that set greenhouse gas emissions and fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, members of the automobile industry committed to supporting the standards. Analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists suggests that the earlier standards for cars and light trucks will result in both savings to consumers—who will spend less money on gas—and job creation in the auto industry, since companies will need to hire more workers as they design and build more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Research shows that industry and consumers will also reap significant savings under the new standards for heavy-duty trucks and buses A study commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund predicts that the new standards for heavy-duty trucks will result in average savings to fleet operators of $4,000 per truck by 2030 and $13,800 per truck by 2040. Research from the Consumer Federation of America found that these savings will be passed on to consumers, since lower shipping costs will encourage manufacturers to lower the price of goods.

Advocates of the standards are optimistic that technology exists—or will exist soon—that will enable the trucking industry to comply with the standards. According to EPA and NHTSA, vehicle manufacturers should be able to meet the standards through adopting a variety of new and existing technologies. Modeling performed by the International Council on Clean Transportation found that available technologies can achieve a significant reduction fuel use per ton-mile, and that emerging technologies may be able to achieve an even greater reduction.

The new standards will begin to phase in starting 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.