Obama Orders EPA, NHTSA to Issue Heavy-Duty Truck Standards by 2016

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By Andrew Childers

Feb. 18 --President Obama ordered his administration to issue new fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks by March 2016, following through on a State of the Union pledge to address the economy and climate change using his executive authority.

Obama called the move “another big step to grow our economy and reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.” Speaking Feb. 18 at the Safeway Distribution Center in Upper Marlboro, Md., Obama directed the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to propose corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) and greenhouse gas emissions standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks beyond model year 2018 by March 2015, with a final rule by March 2016.

The new standards would follow similar requirements the two agencies issued for model year 2014 through 2018 heavy-duty pickup trucks, delivery vehicles and tractor trailers in 2011 (76 Fed. Reg. 57,106).

Although heavy-duty trucks represent only 4 percent of the vehicles on the road, they account for 20 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation sector and consume 20 percent of on-road fuel, Obama said. Improving the fuel efficiency of the vehicles will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save more money for both vehicle operators and consumers, he said.

“Five years ago, we set out to break our dependence on foreign oil. And today, America is closer to energy independence than we've been in decades,” Obama said. “For the first time in nearly 20 years, America produces more oil here at home than we buy from other countries.”

Obama pledged to use his executive authority to address the climate and the economy during his State of the Union speech Jan. 28 .

“So the point is I'm eager to work with Congress wherever I can--but whenever I can act on my own to expand opportunity for more Americans and help build our middle class, I'm going to do that,” Obama said Feb. 18.

Industry Supports Standards

Truck manufacturers largely supported Obama's announcement though they cautioned that the compliance period for the first phase of the greenhouse gas standards has only just gone into effect.

“The industry is still in the process of implementing the first EPA/NHTSA greenhouse gas/fuel efficiency program which only went into effect last month,” Jed Mandel, president of the Engine Manufacturers Association, said in a Feb. 18 statement. “Nevertheless, EMA and its members are committed to working with EPA and NHTSA to assure that a second phase program recognizes the commercial needs of the marketplace, balances stringency and cost while providing adequate lead time and stability, avoids unintended consequences and assures uniform, accurate and cost-effective assessment/measurement methods.”

Although manufacturers supported Obama's announcement, some trucking groups cautioned that the pending emissions standards shouldn't conflict with other vehicle regulations.

“Fuel is one of our industry's largest expenses, so it makes sense that as an industry we would support proposals to use less of it,” Bill Graves, president and chief executive officer of the American Trucking Associations, said in a Feb. 18 statement. “However, we should make sure that new rules don't conflict with safety or other environmental regulations, nor should they force specific types of technology onto the market before they are fully tested and ready.”

Others Praise Announcement

The Heavy Duty Fuel Efficiency Leadership Group, a trucking industry group formed to provide input into the prior fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards, also praised Obama's announcement.

“Collectively, we have made significant progress toward reducing emissions and improving efficiencies--both of which benefit customers, the public and the environment,” Tom Linebarger, chairman and chief executive officer of Cummins, said in a statement.

Obama during his announcement praised the success of the National Clean Fleets Partnership, a public-private group that provides technical assistance to companies that choose to improve the fuel efficiency of their trucking fleets. To date, 23 companies, including Coca-Cola, UPS, AT&T, Enterprise Holdings and Waste Management, have joined the partnership.

The Heavy Duty Fuel Efficiency Leadership Group urged the federal government to ensure its standards would harmonize with California regulations as part of a statement of principles issued Feb. 18.

The California Air Resources Board issued greenhouse gas emissions standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles in December 2013. The standards largely align with federal requirements. However, the California regulations extend through model year 2019, while the federal standards only cover up to model year 2018 .

CARB's Efforts

The California Air Resources Board pledged to work closely with the EPA and the NHTSA during development of the second phase of federal heavy-duty truck standards.

“We are excited to share the California experience and technical expertise gained from our early actions to reduce emissions and save fuel from the heaviest trucks via our California tractor-trailer greenhouse gas program over the last six years,” California Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols said in a Feb. 18 statement.

Obama noted that 70 percent of all domestic freight travels by truck, and the Consumer Federation of America said that improving the fuel efficiency of trucks could reduce the cost of goods and provide significant economic benefits to consumers.

“We know that the fuel costs associated with shipping goods cross country heavily impact the price of everything from a carton of milk to a pair of shoes,” Mark Cooper, director of research at the Consumer Federation of America, said in a Feb. 18 statement. “Achievable standards that cut fuel use by nearly 50 percent would put $29.5 billion back into the pockets of Americans.”

Cost to Households

Fuel consumption from heavy-duty vehicles cost more than $1,100 per U.S. household in 2010, the Consumer Federation said in a Feb. 3 report. Fuel consumption represents one-third of trucking transportation costs, the single largest expenditure, according to the report .

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Childers in Washington at achilders@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl in Washington at lpearl@bna.com

A White House fact sheet on the announcement is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/02/18/fact-sheet-opportunity-all-improving-fuel-efficiency-american-trucks-bol.

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