Energy & Environment

Obama administration strengthens efficiency standards for large trucks

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The Obama administration has finalized new rules to cut greenhouse gas emissions and increase fuel efficiency in heavy-duty trucks and other large vehicles. 

The Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday released the new rules, which they said will slash greenhouse gas emissions from the American transportation sector.  

The new standards for combination tractors, the largest contributor of greenhouse gases in the heavy-duty transportation sector, built through model year 2027 will produce 25 percent less carbon dioxide and use 25 percent less fuel than those produced under current standards.

{mosads}The rules expand on the greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards unveiled in 2012 and are designed to cut 1.1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption by an additional 10 percent over the first phase.

New regulations were also released for trailers, vocational vehicles and heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans, with most standards becoming mandatory in model year 2021. Large pickups and vans will become 2.5 percent more efficient every year between 2021 and 2027.

The transportation sector accounts for about a quarter of American greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA. Heavy trucks produce about 20 percent of that pollution in the United States.

“We expect these [rules] will drive innovation as well as protect the air that we breathe,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said on a call with reporters. 

“The standards promote a new generation of cleaner, more fuel-efficient trucks by encouraging the development and deployment of new and advanced cost-effective technologies through model year 2027.”

The trucking industry generally supported the first round of regulations, noting that higher efficiency standards for vehicles mean potentially lower fuel costs for their shipping fleets. 

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the rule will reduce fuel costs by $170 billion by 2027 and cut oil demand by up to 2 billion barrels. He summed up the rule as: “Simply put, more efficiency and better fuel savings.”  

In a statement, the American Trucking Associations said it was “cautiously optimistic” that the standard would succeed in reducing emissions and improving fuel efficiency. 

“While today’s fuel prices are more than 50 percent lower than those we experienced in 2008, fuel is still one of the top two operating expenses for most trucking companies,” ATA President and CEO Chris Spear said. 

“That’s why our industry has worked closely with both the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over the past three-and-a-half years to ensure these fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards took into account the wide diversity of equipment and operations across the trucking sector.”

Environmentalists, too, were generally pleased with the rule, saying it will add to other Obama administration efforts to address climate change.

The rule is one of the last major environmental standards set for release between now and the end of President Obama’s term in January. 

It comes after a series of high-profile efforts to cut climate change-causing emissions from the transportation sector. Along with the heavy-duty vehicle rule in 2012, the White House finalized a stringent fuel efficiency standard for passenger cars and light-duty trucks, though the standard is so high federal agencies admit automakers are likely to fall short of it. 

The EPA has also kicked off a push to write emissions standards for airplanes, though those won’t come until well after Obama leaves office. 

—This post was updated at 1:16 p.m.

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