US adopts new regulations for cleaner trucks

American officials have unveiled new fuel-economy standards for trucks, requiring them to become 2.5 per cent more fuel efficient every year between 2021 and 2027. The transport sector is largely supportive of Washington’s move. John Dyer reports from Boston.

Industry experts say the new EPA fuel-economy standards for trucks and other large transport vehicles are good for business and the environment alike. (Image credit: Antti Kyllönen, flickr/Creative Commons)

Industry experts say the new EPA fuel-economy standards for trucks and other large transport vehicles are good for business and the environment alike. (Image credit: Antti Kyllönen, flickr/Creative Commons)

Tractor-trailer trucks, buses and other big vehicles will have to run cleaner in the United States in the coming years.

Earlier this month, American officials unveiled new fuel-economy standards for trucks as part of President Barack Obama and the international community’s push to cut carbon emissions and combat climate change. The measures are in line with the US pledge at last year’s UN conference on climate change in Paris to cut emissions by at least 26 per cent in 2030 compared to 2005 levels.

2.5 per cent less each year

“The standards promote a new generation of cleaner, more fuel-efficient trucks by encouraging the development and employment of new and advanced cost-effective technologies,” said Gina McCarthy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, in a statement.

“These standards are ambitious and achievable, and they will help ensure the American trucking industry continues to drive our economy and, at the same time, protect our planet.”

The new rules require big pickups, passenger vans and medium-duty vehicles to become 2.5 per cent more fuel efficient every year between 2021 and 2027. Heavy-duty vehicles like long-haul trucks to lower carbon emissions by 25 per cent compared to today in 2027.

Those vehicles comprise around 5 per cent of the American vehicle fleet. But they account for 20 per cent of the total fuel consumption and carbon emissions from American transportation.

Less fuel, less emissions

The new standards could eliminate 1 billion tonnes of carbon emissions, cut fuel use by 319 billion litres annually and reduce fuel costs by USD 170 billion, according to the EPA.

While they could add as much as USD 14,000 to the price of a new truck, truck owners would recoup that money in two years due to fuel savings, officials said. The EPA claimed the rules would amount to a USD 230 billion savings in total.

“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,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a press conference. “So I think this is a very strong economic rule, from the standpoint of job creation and from the standpoint of reducing burden on consumers.”

Bolstered by a U.S. Supreme Court decision granting him sweeping powers under the 1970s-era Clean Air Act, Obama has also instituted new emissions requirements for cars, light trucks, air conditioners and other emitters.

Earlier this year, however, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked Obama’s attempt at cutting emissions from coal-fired power plants pending litigation now in lower federal courts.

Good for business, good for the environment

Different industries, the powerful American Petroleum Institute lobbying firm and Republicans who control Congress have opposed those measures.

But the trucking business and other sectors have largely accepted the president’s new emissions standards for their trucks. Big companies that depend on trucks like FedEX, Pepsi, Walmart and Waste Management have endorsed the standards, too.

The industry wants to adopt more fuel-efficient vehicles, said Brian Mormino, executive director of environmental strategy at Indiana-based Cummins, the world’s largest manufacturer of truck engines.

“It’s a place where you really have interests aligned,” Mormino said. “It’s good for business; it’s good for the environment; it’s good for our economy overall. Regardless of whether oil prices are down, that focus on fuel savings is still important.”

Could have gone further

Environmentalists welcomed the new standards as a good step forward. But they also said people should be sceptical when the government and big business concur.

David Cooke, a senior analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the trucking industry could adopt technology that would reduce emissions even further. Trucking companies don’t want to spend the money on that new technology, however.

“Our research shows that they could have gone further by requiring trucks to be at least 40 per cent more efficient,” Cooke said.

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