Climate

The EPA Just Cracked Down On Carbon Emissions From Big Trucks

CREDIT: shutterstock

The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation released a new proposal for combating emissions from heavy duty trucks on Friday, a proposal the agencies estimate will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about one billion metric tons.

Unlike the federal government’s rules for cars and light trucks, this proposal doesn’t focus on miles per gallon as a way of measuring efficiency for heavy trucks — a category that includes tractor trailers, garbage trucks, school buses, and heavy-duty personal vehicles like Ford F-350s.

“The magical ‘miles per gallon’ is just not a meaningful metric for these standards,” Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, said in a press call Friday. “We don’t measure the fuel efficiency that way for these vehicles.”

Instead, the proposed rule focuses on trucks’ performance standards, or the amount of work they do hauling loads and how efficient they are at it. It lays out the drop in emissions that would happen under the regulations, and also estimates the cost associated with that drop. According to the agencies, the one billion metric ton drop in greenhouse gas emissions would cut fuel costs from heavy trucks by about $170 billion and would reduce oil consumption by up to 1.8 billion barrels. These emissions reductions, the agencies say, are “nearly equal to the greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy use by all U.S. residences in one year.”

The rule would cover trucks rolled out between 2021 and 2017, and would call for up to a 24 percent drop in carbon emissions and fuel consumption from these trucks, compared to 2018 models.

According to the EPA, medium and heavy duty cars and trucks make up 20 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with transportation in the U.S., even though they only make up about 5 percent of the vehicles on the road.

That’s not surprising considering the amount of fuel these trucks consume. According to a fact sheet from several different environmental groups, the truck fleet in the U.S. consumed about 2.7 million barrels of fuel each day in 2013, and emitted a total of 530 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. And those emissions are only expected to grow: the EPA predicts that, around the world, emissions from heavy duty trucks will surpass those from passenger vehicles by 2030.

EPA says that miles per gallon isn’t a good measure of truck efficiency under this rule, but the average miles per gallon for big trucks is low: about five to six mpg for an average tractor trailer.

The agencies said in the press call that, to comply with the rule, truck owners would be relying on existing technology and new technology that’s expected to come out in the next few years. The Union of Concerned Scientists put out a report in March that argued that “the average new truck” could reduce its fuel use by 40 percent by using technologies that are already on the market.

UCS said in a statement that it was glad that the federal government was tackling truck emissions, but that it thought the proposal could have gone further.

“Today’s proposed standards are a step in the right direction and would save the trucking industry billions of dollars in fuel, savings which can be passed down to consumers,” Dave Cooke, vehicles analyst at the UCS’s Clean Vehicles Program said in a statement. “But we believe the rule could deliver even greater fuel savings and emissions reductions sooner. Moving more quickly to fully deploy technologies now entering or already in the market could save an additional 100,000 barrels per day or more by 2040.”

The EPA is opening the comment period on the proposal, and will also be holding public hearings in the coming months. The proposal could see some pushback from the trucking industry, though some companies have already pledged their support for emissions regulation.