White House issues first ever fuel economy standards for biggest trucks

Aug 11, 2011

When you’re on the highway, you see all those big 18-wheelers... the cement trucks and trucks hauling logs... the refrigerated trucks heading to the grocery store... pretty soon, all these kinds of trucks will be seeing some changes.

David Friedman is with the Union of Concerned Scientists. He says these trucks are cleaner than they used to be.

“We’ve seen a lot of progress when it comes to the pollutants that cause smog or the particulates that get deep in your lungs, causing asthma and lung disease. Thanks to regulations from California and the EPA we’ve seen those big rig trucks cleaned up a lot on that end.”

But... he says when it comes to fuel consumption and greenhouse gasses... not so much.

The Obama Administration is stepping in, and has just issued the first ever fuel economy standards for new medium and heavy trucks. It’ll start with trucks and busses built in 2014. They’ll have to reduce the fuel they use and their greenhouse gas emissions by 10 to 20 percent... depending on the type of truck.

“These trucks represent about four percent of the vehicles on the road but account of 20 percent of our highway fuel use.”

David Friedman says these heavy vehicles also emit a lot of carbon dioxide.

“In many cases, they end up producing about three times the global warming pollution as your typical car. They have an outsized impact on oil dependence and global warming from transportation. That’s why this is such an important step.”

The White House says the regulations will save businesses $50 billion dollars in fuel costs – and more than 500 million barrels of oil.

The trucking industry and manufacturers played a big role in drafting these new standards. They met with officials from the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency over the past year.

The result is a pretty massive book of regulations – about a thousand pages.

“The rule is very complex - it’s because the nature of this industry is quite complex.”

Allen Schaeffer is the Executive Director of The Diesel Technology Forum. The group represents companies such as Chrysler, GM, and Caterpillar. Basically, all kinds of companies that make diesel engines, and technology to control emissions.

He says the manufacturers are pretty happy with the new standards.

“We think the technologies to do this are ready on the shelf for the most part and can be put into motion pretty quickly. Some changes will be not so visible, some will be more visible – you’ll be seeing tractor trailers looking even more streamlined, more aerodynamic in the coming years.”

And he says you’ll see something called “super-single tires” replacing those classic dual tires on the big rigs.

Still, not everybody’s thrilled with the new rules.

Joe Rajkovacz is with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. He says the regulations will hurt small businesses... such as the stick haulers who move timber in northern Michigan. He says it’ll cost a lot to comply with the regulations.

“U.S. EPA estimates are roughly $6500 per truck. We are incredibly, not just suspicious, we don’t believe it for a minute.”

He says big companies with larger fleets will have an easier time adapting.

“It’s going to severely handicap small businesses.”

But Rajkovacz says there’s no question truckers want to use less fuel.

“Look, I ran my own trucks for 29 years. I didn’t need the government telling me how to wisely use that most precious resource that was costing me the majority of the money I was earning.”

He says there are less expensive ways to cut fuel use, including the way you drive. So he wants to see more flexibility from the federal government to make it easier for small businesses to comply with the new standards.