By Keith Laing
President Obama said Tuesday that he was pushing to increase the fuel efficiency requirements for large freight trucks because they are the “next step” in his administration’s effort to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.
Against a backdrop of a Safeway grocery store distribution center in Upper Marlboro, Md., Obama announced that his administration would raise the number of miles per gallon that will be required for big rigs, semi trucks, buses and other heavy-duty vehicles above levels in current rules scheduled to expire in 2018.
Under those rules, which were adopted in 2011 and took effect this year, administration officials say reduced fuel consumption by trucks is expected to save 530 million barrels of oil and reduce emissions by roughly 270 million metric tons.
Obama said Tuesday that improving fuel efficiency standards for trucks would make a big dent in overall U.S. gasoline consumption.
“Heavy-duty trucks account for just 4 percent of all the vehicles on the highway,” the president said. “I know when you're driving sometimes it feels like it's more, but they're only 4 percent of all the vehicles. But they're responsible for about 20 percent of carbon pollution in the transportation sector.”
Obama said that trucks were the “next step” in his administration’s efforts to improve the fuel efficiency of all vehicles that travel on U.S. roads.
“Five years ago, we set out to break our dependence on foreign oil,” he said. “Today, America is closer to energy independence and we have been in decades. For the first time in nearly 20 years, America produces more oil here at home than we buy from other countries. Our levels of dangerous carbon pollution, that contributes climate change, have actually gone down even as our production has gone up.
“One of the reasons why is because we've dedicated ourselves to manufacturing new cars and new trucks that go farther on a gallon of gas,” Obama continued. “And that saves families money, it cuts down harmful pollution and it creates new advances in American technology. So for decades, the fuel efficiency standards of our cars and trucks was stuck in neutral, even as other kinds of technology leapt forward. And that left families and businesses and our economy vulnerable to fluctuations in oil prices. Every time oil prices shot up, the economy got hurt.”
Groups that lobby for truck drivers in Washington greeted Obama's announcement with apprehension.
“We stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the President and his administration in 2011 when the historic first fuel efficiency standards were set for heavy-duty vehicles,” American Trucking Associations (ATA) President Bill Graves said in a statement. “As we begin this new round of standards, ATA hopes the administration will set forth a path that is both based on the best science and research available and economically achievable.”
Graves added that truck drivers needed to be granted flexibility to meet the Obama administration’s potential new standards.
“Fuel is one of our industry’s largest expenses, so it makes sense that as an industry we would support proposals to use less of it,” Graves said. “However, we should make sure that new rules don’t conflict with safety or other environmental regulations, nor should they force specific types of technology onto the market before they are fully tested and ready.”