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Cutting Big Truck Pollution Cuts Costs

Posted by Carol Lee Rawn at Aug 07, 2015 12:59 PM |
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As we celebrate the release of EPA’s historic Clean Power Plan for power plants, let’s not lose sight of another critical source of carbon pollution that’s up for cutting now: transportation emissions.
by Carol Lee Rawn, Director, Transportation Program Ceres Posted on Aug 07, 2015

As we celebrate the release of EPA’s historic Clean Power Plan for power plants, let’s not lose sight of another critical source of carbon pollution that’s up for cutting now: transportation emissions. Federal standards are advancing quietly to curb carbon pollution from big trucks and they need our support to make them stronger.

Amazingly, big trucks—which average only 6 mpg—were not subject to any fuel efficiency standards until 2011, when the first-ever fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for these big vehicles were adopted. These “Phase 1” rules, which went into effect in 2014, apply to a wide range of medium- and heavy-duty trucks – from delivery vehicles and garbage trucks to tractor trailers – and will stay in place through 2018.

This is hugely important. Dirty coal plants may emit more total CO2, but heavy trucks are the fastest-growing single source of GHG emissions in the U.S. These trucks move 70 percent of U.S. freight, and thanks to their poor fuel efficiency and long distances driven, account for over half a billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year.

It gets worse. According to the DOT’s Federal Highway Administration, freight truck miles are projected to increase 67.75 percent between 2012 and 2040—and that means a lot more carbon pollution.

Fortunately, when the Obama Administration released its Phase 1 rules, it also committed to create longer-term and stronger rules to ensure that trucks get cleaner as their role in our economy grows.

Earlier this summer, the Administration released a proposed set of “Phase 2” standards for heavy and medium-duty trucks that would apply through 2029. According to the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which released the draft rules, Phase 2 could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1 billion metric tons and save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the life of the vehicles sold under the program.

Sounds pretty good, right?

The problem is that the standards could be even stronger – and they should be, if we want to keep temperature rise to 2 degrees to avoid catastrophic changes to our climate. Tightening the standards would also save companies more money by reducing freight costs further, and those savings could benefit consumers.

While the Phase 2 proposed regulations are a good start, it is both feasible and cost effective to cut fuel consumption 40 percent by 2025 (compared to 2010 levels) –that is, greater reductions and by a earlier date than the Administration is aiming for with its proposed rules, which require a 36 percent reduction by 2027.

That might not sound like a big difference, but the stronger standard would prevent an additional 40 million metric tons of global warming emissions annually—the equivalent of shutting down 12 coal-fired power plants.

Some critics claim that tougher standards will cost too much. But strong standards are good for companies’ bottom lines, thanks to reductions in fuel bills—which will save consumers money as well.

The average U.S. household paid roughly $1,100 in fuel costs for goods and services delivered by medium-and heavy-duty trucks according to the Consumer Federation of America. Those costs will go down with strong truck standards.

A recent Ceres/EDF analysis shows that strong, technically feasible Phase 2 standards that cut fuel consumption by 40 percent by 2025 would result in an annual savings potential of $34 billion, and a 6.8 percent reduction in freight costs, by 2040.

That’s why companies support strengthening the proposed truck standards. Stronger standards offer companies the opportunity to not only save money, but also meet their GHG emissions reduction goals. As Indra K. Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, recently opined in the Wall Street Journal, strong standards are better for the environment and businesses because they will cut costs and allow companies to reinvest in their products and compete in their industry. Similarly, Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim recently called for a 40 percent reduction in heavy truck fuel consumption by 2025.

Here’s where you can help. EPA and NHTSA are planning two public hearings on the rules and are taking public comments on the rules until September 17.  Please weigh in! Tell the Administration to strengthen these rules. You can submit comments here: http://www.regulations.gov/ - !documentDetail;D=NHTSA-2014-0132-0013.

President Obama has said time and again that confronting climate change is a central part of his legacy. Stronger efficiency and emissions standards for trucks are a low-cost, high-payoff way for him to cement that legacy – and they’ll also help cut freight costs and clean up our air. We can’t afford to wait.

Carol Lee Rawn is director of transportation programs at Ceres, a nonprofit organization mobilizing business and investor leadership on climate change, water scarcity and other sustainability challenges.

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Meet the Expert

Carol Lee Rawn

Carol Lee Rawn directs the Transportation Program at Ceres. She currently works with investors and companies to advance sustainable transportation policies. She is an environmental attorney with over twenty years of experience working with federal and state regulatory agencies, companies, and nonprofit organizations on a wide variety of environmental issues.

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