Up to this point, truck emissions efforts have focused solely on the hardware, adding considerable cost to equipment. Worse, until the last round of emissions standards, each step towards cleaner exhaust has brought degradation in operational efficiency as well as higher initial price tags. Fortunately, we can expect a different approach in the government's next emissions campaign, an approach that recognizes vehicle technology is only part of the solution.
It's clear at this point that reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) will be the focus of future truck emissions regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency. And the way to do that is to reduce medium- and heavy-duty truck fuel consumption. With a stated goal of improving fuel efficiency by up to 50% over the next ten years, EPA clearly believes technology will be part of the equation.
Last month, I talked about some of the technologies identified by a panel of researchers, engineers and even a fleet maintenance executive who developed a basic outline for EPA to follow as it creates its GHG reduction strategy. The panel's report takes a commonsense approach that recognizes trucking is really a collection of widely varying operations that will require widely varying technologies.
In a sharp break from previous emissions efforts, the panel also took a position that represents a real change in perspective for regulators — the truck alone is only part of the fuel efficiency equation. Of course, it's no surprise to any fleet manager, but the panel advised EPA that if it was serious about cutting fuel consumption, it had to look beyond the iron.
Instead of instituting fuel economy standards for trucks, which could only be satisfied practically with new truck technology, the panel suggests that EPA also consider alternatives that “may be more effective, less costly and complementary.”
Everyone in trucking knows that drivers have an enormous and direct impact on fuel economy. So it comes as no surprise that the panel identifies driver training as “one of the most cost-effective and best ways to reduce fuel consumption and improve productivity of the trucking sector.” They suggest one way to promote that path to fuel efficiency would be to establish a driver-training curriculum based on certified fuel-saving techniques and make it part of the licensing process.
The second alternative is also one that's quite familiar to fleets, but a bit more controversial in some quarters. The panel says liberalizing weight and size restrictions should be considered for fuel economy benefits as long as safety objections could also be addressed. In line with longer, heavier trucks, the panel believes investment in intelligent transportation systems to minimize congestion and improve traffic flow might also contribute to better fuel efficiency and lower GHG emissions. Again, a position most in trucking should strongly support.
One other suggested alternative that might not sit so well with many fleets is increasing fuel taxes. The panel's thinking is that higher taxes would provide enough incentive to foster real gains in truck fuel economy without resorting to a government mandate or standard. I think that raises a good question — would you rather have taxes push your fleet into better fuel efficiency or have the government set a new round of standards that will certainly have costs but may or may not actually suit your particular operation?
Whether you agree with any or all of the panel's alternatives, you have to give them credit for thinking beyond a rigid reliance on technology only.