New big truck rules to save $170 billion in fuel

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The Obama administration is proposing Friday a second round of fuel efficiency rules for the nation’s medium- and heavy-duty trucks that will save truckers $170 billion in fuel costs and cut oil consumption by up to 1.8 billion barrels of oil.

The biggest surprise in the second round of rules is the Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the industry significant additional lead time for most of the second-round requirements, which begin in the 2021 model year and run through 2027.

The rules cover semis, garbage trucks, combination trailers, three-quarter-ton pickups, delivery trucks, public utility trucks, transit, shuttles and school buses. The new rules will add about $25 billion in costs over a decade to manufacturers.

In a document made public Friday, the agencies said the proposal will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 1 billion metric tons — nearly equal to the greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy use by all U.S. residences in a single year. The oil saved is more than a year’s worth of U.S. imports from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

The standards would achieve up to 24 percent lower carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption than an equivalent tractor in 2018.

Michigan is home to a significant amount of engine and part production for heavy trucks. U.S. automakers also build some larger trucks and vans that will be covered by the rules.

For heavy-duty pickups and vans, automakers will need to boost fuel efficiency by an average of 2.5 percent per year starting in 2021.

The agencies are also proposing efficiency and greenhouse 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.

The rules got support from environmental groups and the American Trucking Association.

“Fuel is an enormous expense for our industry, and carbon emissions carry an enormous cost for our planet,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. “That’s why our industry supported the Obama Administration’s historic first round of greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards for medium and large trucks and why we support the aims of this second round of standards.”

But the group said it “remains concerned” the rules may prompt the use of some technologies before they are fully tested. Fuel is a big deal for truckers: Last year the trucking industry spent nearly $150 billion on diesel fuel alone.

National Association of Clean Air Agencies executive director Bill Becker said the rule could help make “deep cuts in other air pollutants, such as smog-forming emissions, fine particles and air toxins, all of which cause serious health problems and premature death. These reductions will benefit, literally, every community across the nation.”

But the National Automobile Dealers Association and American Truck Dealers criticized the proposal, noting that the administration says they would add as much as $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.”

The agencies say “cost-effective technologies for trailers — including aerodynamic devices, lightweight 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.”

Federal officials call the rules a “win-win.”

“Once upon a time, to be pro-environment, you had to be anti-big vehicles. This rule will change that,” U.S Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “In fact, these efficiency standards are good for the environment — and the economy. When trucks use less fuel, shipping costs go down. It’s good news all around, especially for anyone with an online shopping habit.”

They are the second set of rules for big trucks. The EPA and NHTSA in 2011 finalized first-ever fuel-efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks. The standards call for those vehicles to reduce fuel consumption between 10 and 20 percent, depending on the design and purpose of the vehicles.

Overall, the medium and heavy duty rules announced in 2011 are expected to save the industry $50 billion in fuel costs, or 530 billion barrels of oil, over that period, but will cost manufacturers $8.1 billion to build the more efficient vehicles. Prior to the 2007 energy law, medium- and heavy-duty trucks faced no regulations, unlike light-duty vehicles subject to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy mandates.

“We’re delivering big time on President Obama’s call to cut carbon pollution,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “With emission reductions weighing in at 1 billion tons, this proposal will save consumers, businesses and truck owners money; and at the same time spur technology innovation and job-growth, while protecting Americans’ health and our environment over the long haul.”

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