Trucks Enter 21st Century With Lift In Fuel Economy

Just as the first wave of fuel economy standards for medium and heavy-duty trucks kicks in, the EPA and Transportation Department announced the next phase starting in 2021.

The trucking industry actually asked for the standards after seeing how much gas passenger and light-duty trucks were saving. Standards for cars and light trucks require an average 35.5 mpg by 2016 and 54.5 mpg by 2025.

Incredibly, trucks still get about 6 miles per gallon.

UPS Truck

“Fuel is an enormous expense for our industry – and carbon emissions carry an enormous cost for our planet,” says Bill Graves, president of the American Trucking Association.

Regulations passed in 2011 apply to trucks in model years 2014-2018 – raising efficiency 10-20%, depending on the type of vehicle, and the new rules add another 30%, phased in during model years 2021-2027.

Together, the upgrades for semis, large pickup trucks, buses, and delivery/work trucks will save truckers about $230 billion on fuel costs and cut carbon emissions about 36% – 1.3 billion metric tons over their lifetime or more than all US residential energy use for a year.

Truck sales are up for model years 2014-2015 partially because of better fuel efficiency, says the Transportation Department.

Improvements can be made mostly with off-the-shelf technologies, and although trucks could cost $10,000-12,000 more, that will be paid back in two years through fuel savings.

“These efficiency standards are good for the environment and the economy. When trucks use less fuel, shipping costs go down. It’s good news all around, especially for anyone with an online shopping habit,” says Anthony Foxx, Secretary of Transportation.

They also create jobs across the supply chain as US manufacturers are better able to compete and export fuel efficient trucks, buses and engines.  Standards give manufacturers the certainty they need to invest in new technologies and to retool factories to produce them in high volumes.

Although medium and heavy-duty vehicles comprise about 5% of the vehicles on the road, they consume 20% of oil and produce 23% of greenhouse gas emissions in the US transportation sector.

Meanwhile, California is offering low-income residents that own gas guzzlers up to $12,000 to replace their old vehicle. Payments are on a sliding scale based on income and the car they buy, with the highest amounts for electric cars.

While we are making great strides on transforming our power sector to renewable energy, that’s much harder for transportation fuels – making them more efficient is by far the least expensive, most productive approach to reducing their climate footprint.

Airline Emissions

The EPA is also starting the process of regulating airline emissions for the first time.

Airplanes produce about 3% of US emissions and 11% of US transportation emissions, but they are responsible for 29% of global airline emissions. But the industry is growing rapidly – by 2035 it will be consuming 49% more fuel, according to the  FAA.

Disappointing environmental groups, EPA isn’t setting its own standards, as they have petitioned it to do since 2007. A judge ordered them to do so in 2011, but they still haven’t followed through.

Rather, it will match those set by the United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization, which has also been postponing standards for years.

The airline industry agrees. “Aviation is a global industry, making it critical that aircraft emissions standards continue to be agreed upon at the international level,” says Nancy Young, vice president for environmental affairs at Airlines for America.

An international standard would cover way more aircraft than simply a domestic standard and would secure far more greenhouse gas emission reductions,” Christopher Grundler, at EPA, explained to reporters.

On the other hand, “Passing the buck to an international organization that’s virtually run by the airline industry won’t protect our planet from these rapidly growing emissions,” says Vera Pardee, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Republicans are up in arms, of course, yet more regulations to battle. “The sky is the limit when it comes to how much of the US economy the EPA wants to control,” says Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science Committee. It will hurt the industry and raise prices – the same line used for every regulation that’s been proven false.

The international aviation industry voted to have a cap-and-trade system ready by 2016, which would go into effect in 2020. It could end up being the first worldwide carbon trading system!

Read our articles, How Your Choice Of Airline Affects Emissions, Airplane Manufacturers Join to Develop Sustainable Jet Fuels, and Buzzword is Electric For Future of Aviation.

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