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Obama administration publishes Phase II of GHG plan

June 19, 2015
Trailers added to fuel efficiency standards for trucks

The long-awaited next phase of the federal government’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by setting fuel efficiency standards for commercial vehicles was released Friday.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are jointly proposing the standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles meant to reduce the impacts of climate change, while bolstering energy security and spurring manufacturing innovation. 

The proposed standards are expected to lower CO2 emissions by approximately 1 billion metric tons, cut fuel costs by about $170 billion, and reduce oil consumption by up to 1.8 billion barrels over the lifetime of the vehicles sold under the program.

Putting those numbers into perspective, the government says these reductions are nearly equal to the GHG emissions associated with energy use by all U.S. residences in one year. The total oil savings under the program would be greater than a year’s worth of U.S. imports from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). 

Medium- and heavy-duty vehicles currently account for about 20% of GHG emissions and oil use in the U.S. transportation sector, but only comprise about 5% of vehicles on the road.

“Once upon a time, to be pro-environment you had to be anti-big-vehicles. This rule will change that,” said U.S Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “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.”

The product of three years of testing and research, the proposed vehicle and engine performance standards would cover model years 2021-2027, and apply to semi-trucks, large pickup trucks and vans, and all types and sizes of buses and work trucks.

They would achieve up to 24% lower CO2 emissions and fuel consumption than an equivalent tractor in 2018, based on the fully phased-in standards for the tractor alone in a tractor-trailer vehicle.

In this next phase, the EPA and NHTSA are also proposing efficiency and GHG 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.

Additionally, EPA notes that the proposed standards are:

  • Grounded in rigorous technical data and analysis.
  • Reflect extensive outreach with industry and other stakeholders.
  • Rely on cost-effective technologies to enhance fuel efficiency and reduce GHG emissions that are currently available or in development.
  • They do not mandate the use of specific technologies. Rather they establish standards achievable through a range of technology options, and allow manufacturers to choose those technologies that work best for their products and for their customers. (These technologies include improved transmissions, engine combustion optimization, aerodynamic improvements and low rolling resistance tires). 
  • Phased in over the long-term, beginning in model year 2021 and culminating in standards for model year 2027 – giving manufacturers the time and flexibility to plan.
  • Flexible, by allowing banking and trading emissions credits for most manufacturers, and providing businesses the opportunity to choose the most cost-effective path to meet the standards.

The American Trucking Assns. announced that it supports the proposal, but remains concerned that the rule may result in the use of certain technologies on vehicles before they can be fully tested.

“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.”

Since the first round of efficiency standards were announced in 2011, ATA has been working to evaluate their impact on the trucking industry, and the agency said it has been in constant dialogue with the EPA and the NHTSA to make sure the second round of standards can be effectively implemented by the industry.

 “ATA has adopted a set of 15 ‘guiding principles’ for Phase II,” said ATA Vice President and Energy and Environmental Counsel Glen Kedzie, “and based on conversations with regulators and a preliminary review this proposal appears to meet 14 of those.

 “We believe this rule could result in the deployment of certain technologies that do not fully recognize the diversity of our industry and could prove to be unreliable. This unreliability could slow not only adoption of these technologies, but the environmental benefits they aim to create,” Kedzie said. “To prevent this, truck and engine manufacturers will need adequate time to develop solutions to meet these new standards.”

Kedzie said fuel is typically a fleet’s first or second largest operating expense and most fleets seek a return on their investment in new equipment within 18 to 24 months.

A public comment period will be open for 60 days after the proposal is published in the Federal Register. In addition, NHTSA and EPA will host two public hearings and continue to meet with stakeholders over the course of the comment period, the agencies said.

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