Obama Takes Fuel Standards for Heavy-Duty Vehicles to the Next Level

on February 18, 2014 at 3:30 PM

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President Obama can’t get much done working with Congress, but he’s on a roll when it comes to fuel standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks.

Obama issued the first-ever heavy-duty fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards in August 2011, and will now draft a new set of standards to build on those initial requirements. During a speech on Tuesday at a Safeway distribution center in Maryland, Obama announced Phase II of heavy-duty truck efficiency standards.

The president will direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation to issue the next phase of fuel efficiency greenhouse gas standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks by 2016. The proposed rule should be issued by March 2015. The new standards will cover model years 2018 and beyond.

The first set of standards, issued in 2011, required that by 2018, big rigs and semis would have to reduce fuel consumption and GHG emissions by 20 percent from then-current figures. The standards are estimated to save approximately $50 billion in fuel costs over the lifetime of the program, even after accounting for the costs of compliance.

Heavy-duty vehicles make up just 4 percent of registered vehicles in the U.S., but they account for about a quarter of the fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector.

Although the latest standards have not been drafted, they will likely cover the trailer part of tractor-trailers, according to the Heavy Duty Fuel Efficiency Leadership Group, an alliance of trucking companies that supports fuel efficiency.

“As the largest trailer manufacturer in North America, Wabash National welcomes the announcement that the administration will finalize new standards for fuel efficiency of heavy-duty trucks and trailers,” Richard Giromini, president and chief executive officer of Wabash National Corporation, said in a statement.

The second phase could also offer support for some new fuel-efficient technologies, according to the White House, including hybridization, automatic engine shutdown and engine and powertrain efficiency improvements. The president hopes to offer a $200 million tax credit “to catalyze investment in the necessary infrastructure to support deployment of advanced vehicles at critical mass.”

Unlike some other efficiency standards that are often fought by industry, Phase II of the fuel efficiency standards for trucks is being embraced by many of the largest players in the market.

“If rivals like Pepsi and Coca-Cola, UPS and FedEx, [and] AT&T and Verizon can join us on this, maybe Democrats and Republicans can do the same,” the president said in his remarks.

Many industry leaders are already involved with the president’s National Clean Fleets Partnership and SmartWay Transport Partnership to increase efficiency in the trucking business.

“Finalizing new fuel efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks will be an important milestone that should result in significant benefits to our economy, the trucking industry and the environment,” Douglas Stotlar, president and CEO of Con-way Inc., the nation’s third-largest freight company and a member of the Heavy Duty Fuel Efficiency Leadership Group, said in a statement. Nearly half of Con-way’s trailers already have fuel-saving aerodynamic features.

Vehicles aren’t the only sector where Obama is making headway in efficiency. Last month, he unveiled the first of three manufacturing institutes that he says will be as much about energy efficiency as they are about manufacturing competitiveness. The president has a long-term goal of doubling U.S. energy efficiency by 2030.

by Katherine Tweed, February 18, 2014