Big regs for big rigs: new efficiency, pollution rules for heavy trucks

The EPA and Transportation Department propose the first greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks.
Written by Melissa Mahony, Contributor

The first-ever fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emission standards for medium and heavy trucks are in the works, announced the EPA and DOT this week. Expected to take effect in 2011, the regulations will apply to many classes of large vehicles—delivery vans, buses, garbage trucks, semis—manufactured between 2014 and 2018.

The EPA passed similar standards for cars and light-duty vehicles last spring. Heavy vehicles, however, represent 10 percent of the country's oil consumption and 20 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions by the transportation sector, reports the New York Times. And the industry is growing.

The rules don't just focus on engines but treat the whole vehicle (except for the trailer, for now). They propose efficiency enhancements such as low-rolling resistance tires, idling controls, better transmissions and improved aerodynamics. The vehicle's individual weights and purposes also come into play. For instance, small technology upgrades to trucks and buses that are in it for the long haul will go a long away in regard to fuel savings.

In fact, the government predicts nationwide savings will total $41 billion in net benefits. These include social cost considerations for the related pollution's affect on health, agricultural output, property damage, and ecosystem services.

The applicable vehicles would reportedly save 500 million barrels of oil over the program's first 5 years. And the projected reductions in greenhouse gas emissions? 250 million metric tons.

Luke Tonachel from the Natural Resources Defense Council states:

Every time the price of oil increases it sends shockwaves through the economy, with truck owners having to pay more for fuel, leading them to pass on higher shipping costs to the consumer. Using less fuel will make those shockwaves less damaging to everyone’s wallet.

Total costs to the trucking industry come in around $7.7 billion. Preferring these standards over increased fossil fuel prices or mandated alternative fuel use, the American Trucking Associations is along for the ride. Their vice president Glen Kedzie says attaining the targets is possible "through technologies currently available to motor carriers with expected returns on investments of between 12 to 24 months."

Below is a rough summary of the new rules for three categories. *Reduction percentages are taken from a 2010 baseline.

Combination Tractors
Up to 20 percent reduction in CO2 emissions and fuel consumption by model year 2018, depending on the truck's weight, roof height and whether it has a sleeper cab.

Heavy-Duty Vans and Pick-Ups
Up to a 10 percent reduction in greenhouse for gasoline vehicles and 15 percent reduction for diesel vehicles by model year 2018 and, adjusting for payload, towing capability, and whether the vehicle has 4-wheel drive. Up to 10 percent reduction in fuel consumption for gasoline-powered vehicles and 15 percent reduction for diesel vehicles, voluntary in model years 2014 and 1015.

Vocational Vehicles
7 to 10 percent reduction in CO2 emissions and fuel consumption by
model year 2018, depending on weight.

The standards propose caps on nitrous oxide and methane to keep these emissions at their current relatively low values into the future. Leaky air conditioners are also in the hot seat in order to limit hydrofluorocarbon pollution.

The EPA and the National Highway Traffic Administration will be accepting public comment on the standards for 60 days.

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Images: Flickr/Scania Group

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