The EPA on Tuesday issued a new rule requiring heavy-duty trucks, such as tractor trailers, buses, and garbage trucks, to be more fuel efficient.
Under the new rule, emissions from heavy-duty trucks should drop by 1.1 billion metric tons, the agency said. Trucks sold under the program are expected to use two billion barrels less oil than their counterparts, over the lifetime of the vehicles.
“This is a win-win for businesses and our climate,” Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “Cutting transportation pollution helps the U.S. meet its climate goals, but we can’t ease up on the gas pedal in our efforts to make vehicles cleaner and more fuel-efficient.”
The EPA and the Dept. of Transportation, which also signed off on the rule, said it would ultimately be beneficial for truck owners, who should see a collective savings of $170 billion in fuel costs. Until now, these kinds of vehicles average five to six miles per gallon of diesel fuel. And there are a lot of them.
According to a fact sheet released last year by a coalition of environmental groups, heavy-duty trucks in the United States used about 2.7 million barrels of fuel daily in 2013, accounting for 12.5 percent of the country’s emissions in 2013.
Since then, the electricity sector has cut emissions, while the transportation sector’s emissions have grown. Transportation is now responsible for more emissions than any other sector.
The EPA emphasized that the rule is “flexible” and, critically, based “not only on currently available technologies but [also on] emerging technologies that are not yet in widespread use.”
Under the rule, trucks are divided into several different categories, including trailers, “vocational vehicles” (such as school buses and delivery trucks), and heavy-duty pick-up trucks and vans. The roll-out of the rule depends, in part, on which category a truck falls into. All types of heavy-duty vehicles will be subject to the rule by 2021, with the most stringent rules going into effect for the 2027 model year. By 2027, when the rule is fully implemented, the return on investment for the more efficient trucks will be less than two years, the agencies said.
This final version is stronger than last year’s proposed rule, and the EPA estimates that it will achieve 10 percent more greenhouse gas reductions than the proposal.
Still, not everyone was satisfied Tuesday. Trucks and buses account for more than a fifth of emissions from the sector, despite being only 5 percent of vehicles, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which said the rule should have been more aggressive. Truck emissions have increased at least 71 percent since 1990.
“Addressing truck pollution is urgent, but the Obama administration didn’t create fuel-economy standards strong enough to truly curtail this threat to our climate,” said Anna Moritz, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “Federal officials sacrificed a golden opportunity to push this heavily polluting industry toward true technological innovation.”
Several European car manufacturers have already debuted automated or semi-automated trucks, which are expected to massively decrease the cost of truck transport. Automated trucks can drive much more closely together, which reduces drag and improves efficiency. (Similar to drafting in bicycle racing).
“Demonstration trucks on the road today achieve better fuel economy than these standards will require a decade from now,” Moritz said.
Still, it’s something.
And the rule is just the latest in President Obama’s attempt to curb U.S. emissions through administrative processes — since the Republican-controlled Congress has made it clear legislative action is not on the table. During his time in office, the EPA has issued several rules, lowering allowable levels of ozone, emissions from power plants, and methane leaks from oil and gas operations. All of these actions are expected to help the United States meet its goals under the international Paris climate agreement.
The latest rule will be effective 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register. It was signed by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on Tuesday.