Feds Propose First Fuel Economy, Emissions Standards for Big Trucks


The Obama administration has just unveiled a proposal to require some of the biggest vehicles on the road — including school buses, fire engines, big rigs, large pickup trucks and vans —  to slash fuel consumption and emissions by 10-20 percent between 2014 and 2018.

Released today by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation, this standard for medium- and heavy-duty trucks is the first of its kind. Covering vehicles that account for a whopping 20 percent of all carbon emissions from the nations’ transportation sector, the new rules would prevent the emission of nearly 250 million metric tons of greenhouse gases and save an estimated 500 million barrels of oil during the useful life of vehicles produced in the first five years of this program, according to DOT.

For combination tractors, the Obama administration’s proposal calls for vehicles to achieve an up to 20 percent reduction in carbon emissions and fuel consumption. For heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans, the plan calls for a phase-in of separate standards for gasoline and diesel vehicles, achieving a 10 percent reduction for gas vehicles and a 15 percent reduction for diesel models. So-called “vocational vehicles,” such as fire engines, school buses and garbage trucks, would also be required to achieve a 10 percent reduction.

A number of companies, including Smith Electric Vehicles, a poster child for the Obama administration’s efforts to support cleantech and green jobs through Recovery Act investments, are working on hybrid and electric trucks. But this proposed standard is less about ushering in the next generation of vehicle technology than seeing to it that incremental improvements to current technology are made quickly, for big effects on the transportation sector’s environmental impact.

According to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the proposed rules are meant to spur implementation of “existing technologies,” by an industry that’s already accustomed to the process of complying with emission standards.

Many of these trucks idle for seven hours a day, Jackson said in a call with reporters on Monday, and so reducing idling, especially in trucks with sleeper cabs, can make a big difference. She also mentioned aerodynamic improvements, new fuel injection systems, advanced transmissions, and reductions in weight and leakage from air conditioning systems as examples of technology that truck makers can use to meet the new standard.

As John Voelcker points out over on GreenCarReports, “trucks’ fuel efficiency is so low to start with (anywhere from 4 to 10 miles per gallon), proponents say that even a 10- or 15-percent improvement could save enough money to cover the extra cost of necessary new technology.”

Ultimately, said Jackson, the Obama administration is working to bring about a transition to “less carbon in our atmosphere.” The purpose of standards like those unveiled today — which are now open to a 60-day period for public comments — is to “provide a roadmap out many years into the future,” she said, which allows the private sector to meet and often exceed the standard.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Dave_7

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