Administration Unveils First-Ever Efficiency Rules for Large Trucks

The White House has announced regulations that will for the first time create fuel economy standards for medium and heavy-duty vehicles ranging from tow trucks to big rigs. The standards are scheduled to take effect in 2014, and will require a 20 percent improvement in emissions and fuel consumption for large, long-haul tractor-trailers by 2018. Heavy-duty pickups and vans will be forced to increase efficiency by 10 or 15 percent depending on fuel type, with work vehicles like cement mixers having to improve by 10 percent over the same period.

The American Truck Association has pledged support for the approach, which it finds preferable to commercial and industrial emissions caps. “Any federally mandated carbon control program applied to transportation fuels likely will increase the cost of fossil fuels,” said the trade group in a statement last week. “Discussions of carbon control programs should be premised on fundamental principles designed to minimize disruptions to the transportation of goods and to protect the viability of the trucking industry.”

The proposed policy will seek to reduce emissions associated with commercial trucks in a way that will minimize cost increases associated with the new vehicles and actually provide a payback for operators in the way of fuel savings early on. The EPA says long-haul tractor owners could see a return of as much as $74,000 over the life of their vehicles thanks to the law. “Over all, this program will save $41 billion, and much of it will stay home in the U.S. economy rather than paying for imported oil,” said EPA administrator Lisa Jackson in briefing this morning.

Still, the new regulations don’t go as far as many environmental groups would have liked. A recent study from the National Academy of Sciences found that by deploying vehicles updated with existing technologies, the commercial trucking industry would be able to reduce emissions by at least one-third, with fuel savings paybacks coming after just two years of typical operation.

“President Obama did the right thing by encouraging the creation of these standards, but today’s proposal should be strengthened further to maximize the environmental, security and economic benefits,” said Luke Tonachel of Natural Resources Defense Council in a statement. “The National Academies have shown that cost-effective, clean-vehicle technologies exist that can go beyond the EPA and DOT proposal and more than double the pollution and fuel savings.”

Many companies within the truck manufacturing industry have been preparing to improve the efficiency of their vehicles for years, anticipating a need for better fuel economy generated by rising fuel costs or new government regulations. Navistar has been selling diesel-electric hybrids since 2007, and will soon begin production on its eStar, an all-electric plug-in truck. Another of the country’s largest trucking OEMs, Freightliner, has also announced plans for an electric model, and dedicated fuel-saving manufacturers like Smith and Eaton have recently entered the market as well.

But this first round of federal requirements is unlikely to affect sales of advanced-technology hybrid and electric trucks. Those vehicles may soon be subject to targeted purchaser incentives if groups like the Electrification Coalition have their way, but the goal for EPA and NHTSA with these regulations isn’t to change the way America’s trucks are powered but to get the best existing fuel-saving technologies to market as quickly as possible.

“It’s an OK first start,” said Safe Climate Campaign director Dan Becker to The Hill today. “On the other hand, they left almost half of the emission reductions on the table.”

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  • Anonymous

    Convert these vehicles to CNG & LNG. Establish a gas station every 100 miles which will allow these vehicles to re-fuel. Parallelly the tour buses and light duty vehicles can refill from those gas stations.

  • JamesDavis

    “Another first for Obama,” said the Republicans. “How are we gonna relate this one to a Bush failure?” “Let me think,” said Palin to Fox News. “This can be Obama’s Sodi!”

  • David

    So the truckers say that if we try to regulate their fuel usage they will threaten to cut off transportation of fuel?

    No, what their really saying is that they are copping-out. “You rely on us to provide a product, so let us stick our hand in your cookie jar and don’t tell us how much we can take.”

  • Dom

    I’m no fan of ever more regulations, so I’m not sure I like this. It’s already in a trucking business’ best interest to spend as little as possible on fuel, so why do we need goverment mandates on this?
    I think a better way to reduce the fuel consumed by tractor-trailer rigs would be to ship more by train.

  • Dom

    Oh, and by the way, if they really want to improve fuel efficiency in trucks (the kind most of us would drive), get rid of the chicken tax! There are so many more fuel-efficient trucks in the rest of the world that we can’t buy here cause of that stupid protectionist law. The new VW Amarok TDI is a good example of a truck that should be sold here but isn’t due to politics. If our automakers really are good at making trucks they should have no trouble with the competition. Actually, the rest of the world gets a Ford Ranger that isn’t anything like what we get… theirs is a much better truck.