Photo: Randy Heinitz/Creative Commons (Flickr) Photo: Randy Heinitz/Creative Commons (Flickr)

Big Breakthrough for Big Rigs: The EPA’s New Fuel Economy Rule for Trucks

, president | August 16, 2016, 12:13 pm EST
Bookmark and Share

An 18-wheeler barrels down the highway, bringing pallets of packaged food from a warehouse to a suburban grocery store. A contractor’s flatbed carries lumber and pipes to the site of a new building. A garbage truck weaves its way down an alley to pick up trash behind an apartment building. A tanker fills up with milk at a dairy farm. And in your neighborhood, a delivery truck stops at your driveway to drop off the new back-to-school outfits you ordered for your kids online.

Every day, Americans rely on trucks. Nearly everything we eat, drink, or wear spends time on a truck, and millions of jobs depend on them.

However, the trucks that keep America going come with a cost. Heavy-duty vehicles comprise 7 percent of the vehicles on the road, but they consume 25 percent of the fuel. The reason is that, on average, trucks go just six miles on a gallon of diesel, a number that hasn’t changed much since the 1970’s. That has a big effect on our wallets, as the cost of fuel affects the price of everything we buy.

It also does serious damage to our climate. Transportation is now the biggest source of global warming emissions in the United States, and trucks are a growing part of the problem.

Today, we’re taking a big step towards cutting those costs. The Obama Administration has issued new standards to ensure that new trucks will use 37 percent less fuel  over the next ten years.  This single step will have a major impact: it will reduce oil use by 2 billion barrels and eliminate 1.1 billion tonnes of global warming emissions over the life of these vehicles.

Better mileage also means big savings: these standards will save truck operators more than $170 billion per year, and the average household will pay about $150 less per year for shipped goods.

We know these kinds of standards can work, because we’ve tried them before. In 2012, President Obama issued similar standards to improve fuel economy for passenger cars and trucks.  These standards gave automakers the market certainty that they needed to invest and innovate, and automakers responded with new cars and new technologies that made cars even more efficient and at lower costs than expected, according to a recent Technical Assessment Report.

This new rule will generate a similar success story for trucks. Many of the technologies needed to achieve these standards are in the marketplace today, such as better transmissions that offer tremendous real world fuel savings by allowing the engine to operate more efficiently, as well as advanced, integrated powertrains that drive even further improvements. In fact, according to a recent UCS report, we could make heavy-duty trucks 40 percent (rather than 37%) more efficient, by building upon technologies that are available today.

Last December, the United States played a leading role in securing a global climate agreement in Paris. We made a short-term pledge to reduce our emissions by 26-28% by 2025, and to make deeper cuts over time. This rule is an important step forward in the implementation of that agreement, and another demonstration that the United States is living up to its part of the bargain. I am proud of the fact that our nation now has the strongest and most robust truck standards in the world, and thankful for the work of UCS staff and our supporters for leading the charge to have this strong rule finalized this year.

Posted in: Vehicles

Support from UCS members make work like this possible. Will you join us? Help UCS advance independent science for a healthy environment and a safer world.

Show Comments


Comment Policy

UCS welcomes comments that foster civil conversation and debate. To help maintain a healthy, respectful discussion, please focus comments on the issues, topics, and facts at hand, and refrain from personal attacks. Posts that are commercial, self-promotional, obscene, rude, or disruptive will be removed.

Please note that comments are open for two weeks following each blog post. UCS respects your privacy and will not display, lend, or sell your email address for any reason.

  • Rick MIC

    The latest hype that could be a major contributor to the reduction in carbon emissions is the
    autonomous vehicles being developed by companies like Google and Ford. Autonomous trucks could be used for line haul operations along designated routes and would not require idling for the comfort of the driver. This operation would eventually be expanded to the entire industry and would reduce carbon emissions by billions of tons a year.

  • Rick MIC

    Has the issue of idling been addressed ??? Trucks have to idle to run the A/C & heat. During the required 10 hour break a truck may idle for 8 hours while the driver does his paperwork, surfs the web, and sleeps. When a truck idles it burns about 1 to 1.5 gallons of diesel an hour. If there is 100 trucks in a truck stop idling, then there is 100 to 150 gallons of diesel exhaust going out of the stack and settling on the ground. This “concentration” of diesel exhaust has shown up as visible “oil slicks” in nearby lakes and rivers. Idling of trucks can be reduced without affecting the safety and comfort of the driver. [1] Engine manufactures have a system called optimized idle that puts a thermostat inside of the truck that automatically starts and stops the engine determined by the cab temperature. [2] There are systems called HVAC’s [Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning, various names are used] that are small engines that bolt onto the truck frame that runs the A/C & heat that only burn 1 gallon of diesel in 8 hours, vs the 1 gallon an hour the truck engine burns. [3] The problem with the HVAC’s is they are inadequate during extreme weather conditions such as 100 degrees in the Mojave Desert or 40 degrees below zero in Northern Minnesota. [3] If the engine manufactures would integrate the two systems into a single system, then the HVAC would cover most conditions, but the optimized idle would “kick in” when the HVAC fails. [4] Depending on geographical location, the combined system could reduce idling by 50% to 90%, and since idling is concentrated to a stationary location this is a significant improvement.
    COMMENT: Myth. Most truckers sleep in motels. Answer:Years ago truckers slept in motels, but with the modern day trucks, 95% of the over the road truckers sleep in the truck.
    Myth: There are plenty of motels, so why not make the truckers sleep in motels. Answer: There are motels all over the country, but less that 10% have truck parking. [a] The parking lots are to small to accommodate the big rigs. [b] The black top is to thin for the heavy trucks and the parking lot would be destroyed within a couple of weeks. Myth: 90% of trucker are union. Answer: Back in the 1970’s 50% of the truckers were union, but due to the changing industry from LTL companies to truck load companies, the industry in now less than 10% union.

    • Benjamin

      They have this thing called an APU & it is designed to use up to 1/4 of what the power to run the actual truck would just running constantly. Many trucks have them.

  • solodoctor

    thanks for a good summary. I hope UCS sustains its engagement with the EPA on this issue because the devil will be in the details (of how these new regs get interpreted and implemented). It is a safe bet that the oil industry will not just back off and readily go along with these new rules.

  • Rick MIC

    This article does not show what the standards are, and it appears to have overlooked the majority of the trucks which are the over the road truck that haul the commodities and finished products to and from the manufacturing facilities. Also, this research sounds like it came from the 1970’s. Most trucks from the 70’s got 4 to 5 mph, but trucks today get 7 to 8 mph, and the horse power of today’s trucks are much higher, but still is not high enough to haul heavy loads through the mountains at the speed limit. [I.E. Trucks may be going 30 mph in a 60 mph zone because they don’t have the power to climb a mountain at the posted speed limit] Idling of trucks burns over a gallon a hour and since truck drivers must take a 10 hour break in the truck they must idle the truck to run the A/C or heat. Engine manufacturers have HVAC and Optimized Idle that can reduce idling by up to 90%, but is this included in the new law? Many states have passed idling laws forcing Truckers who must sleep in the truck to turn off their A/C or heat and try to get a good nights sleep so they won’t be fatigued behind the wheel, but these same “DUMMIES” will file “animal cruelty” or “child abuse” charges against the owner of a vehicle for leaving their pet/child in the car for 10 minutes while they go into the store for a gallon of milk. I will have to see what the new laws say, but if it is like some other laws I have heard about, then we may have gone from bad to worse.

    • The fleet average mpg is still about 6 mpg. While most new tractors do get 7-8 mpg (and when combined with trailer aero devices and other fuel saving devices as much as 9-10, depending on the route), the fleet itself still has a long way to go.

      This rule absolutely covers new over-the-road trucks – they are the largest fuel user in the sector. And idling reduction like APUs are one of many technologies that will be used to reduce fuel use from all trucks. And perhaps most importantly for OTR drivers, the tech pays back quickly.

      • RioVenti

        1. Urea is not cost effective and drives up the total cost. That’s why VW had to resort to doing what it could to pass the insane US laws. 2. Idling itself for AC is illegal for many truckers, regardless of optimization, which CAUSES fatigue. 3. The reason the MPG average is still low overall is because of the unfair compliance and technology investment requirements to meet the new standards are keeping older, lower maintenance trucks in the fleets. 4. if the prior point were incorrect, fleets would have already invested in newer fuel saving trucks to realize better ROI but it’s a loss and math doesn’t lie.

      • Urea is necessary to reduce ozone forming emissions from diesel. Of course it isn’t cost effective – trucks are forced to clean up their pollution, and that isn’t free.

        But this rule is about reducing CO2, and reducing CO2 reduces fuel use. The technology we are talking about IS cost-effective, which is why fleets like UPS and Pepsi support the rule, and why manufacturers like Daimler and Cummins support the rule.

        This rule is an easy win-win.

      • RioVenti

        1. OEMs support it because it means more money for them. 2. Big companies support it because it makes it harder on small business competitors with smaller truck budgets. 3. Hardly a win for consumers since the price of all this stuff will drive up prices. 4. There is no warming, the only hot air is coming out of the liberal universities trying to keep their grants coming in so they won’t have to get a job in the private sector. 5. If global warming WAS real, why are winters getting worse? Must be all that CO2 keeping the heat in?

      • Benjamin

        What I don’t understand is why all the regulation on the trucks & it just drives more drivers into a lease where they can’t afford to make the costly repairs, if they remain CARB compliant & others who stay out of CA purchase more & more Fitzgerald gliders. Yet just how many new coal plants is China building per week again? Sure sounds like a real winner.

      • Benjamin
      • You don’t have the right to pollute. If driving with a cleaner engine costs a driver money, they can build it into his/her business bottom line. But that is relevant only to the 2010 EPA engine regulations, not these CO2 regs, which reduce a trucker’s operating costs.

        Also, these regulations have eliminated the glider kit loophole, as should have been done a long time ago.

      • Benjamin

        Obviously the 2010 EPE regulation has not eliminated the glider kit loophole. It was a line item that nearly did, but yet more are being sold all the time. https://www.fitzgeraldgliderkits.com

      • Sorry if I wasn’t clear, but the glider kit loophole was closed in the regulations that were finalized on Tuesday. Those businesses will be limited back to the low volume product for which they were intended, which is as a replacement vehicle.

      • Benjamin

        Do you have an article to link that about the new glider kit loophole that is now closed? I would like to read it.

      • I don’t have an article, but here is a fact sheet describing what was in the proposal, and that is basically the same as what was in the finalized regulations: https://www3.epa.gov/otaq/climate/documents/420f15904.pdf

      • Rick MIC

        I have to disagree with you about the 6 mpg. I drove for 25 years and retired on disability in 2007. I have worked for some of the biggest truck load carries in the country and the fleet average was over 7 mpg when I left the industry. Idling will have an effect on mpg if the idling fuel is not deducted from the fuel used while driving, I.E. If you drive 500 miles and you get 7 mpg you will burn 71 gallons of fuel. [500 / 7=71] If you burn 10 gallons of fuel while idling then your fuel economy is 6 mpg. 71 gallons of fuel driving plus 10 gallons idling is 81 total gallons of fuel used in 500 miles. [71 + 10 = 81] Divide the 500 miles by the 81 gallons and your fuel economy is reduced from 7 mpg to 6 mpg. [500 / 81 = 6] My mpg was usually to fleet lowest of around 6.5 to 7, but I usually hauled the heavy loads through the mountains where the fuel economy is the worst. The lighter loads on flat ground will add 2 to 3 mpg to the truck, and this raises the fleet average to over 7 mpg.
        Comment: I have calculated fuel mpg many times over the years, and I have done it with and without the idling fuel. I have achieved 6 mpg including the idling fuel over some of the worst terrain in the county with heavy loads. I have also achieved 10 mpg with a light load on flat ground and a healthy tail wind pushing down the road. I can remember years ago when these same loads would net me a 4 mpg on a good day, and I have been as low as 3 mpg.

      • The 6 mpg figure comes from data reported by the Federal Highway Administration, compiled by Oak Ridge National Lab: http://cta.ornl.gov/data/tedb34/Edition34_Chapter05.pdf

        While I can appreciate anecdotes, you also have to remember this is not exclusively OTR hauling. Also, this number includes all fuel use by these vehicles.

  • RioVenti

    This will result in MORE imported oil because dropping demand this drastically negatively impact fracking and other domestic production methods that can only thrive in a high price market. This is why government meddling actually funds MORE terrorism. Oil companies that lay off thousands of domestic workers get blamed, but it’s Obama’s fault. Also, fuel saving technologies cost more than the fuel they save. They add cost, complexity, maintenance, etc that very conveniently aren’t factored into government estimates. Let the market decide. Make Energy Great Again.

    • marcusnh

      The market is broken. It should not decide anything. The market encourages companies, individuals, governments to value money as the highest goal, when in real life that goal is utterly stupid. Placing the attainment of money ahead of family, good values, the environment, looking after employees, being a useful member of your community etc. is why the world – especially the places that value the market like the USA – is going backwards in every real metric. The government isn’t ‘meddling’ as you put it, it is trying act, albeit in one tiny way, as a good steward of the environment, which is a very important, possibly the most important, thing any human being or group of human beings can do. Oil companies need to realise the truth that fossil fuel use is history. If they want to stay in business, they should start changing their business to a clean green business model, producing energy from solar, hydro, geothermal, wind etc. If they do that, they’ll be able to hire a lot more people instead of laying them off, and will start being part of the solution instead of what they are now: part of the problem. Good on you Obama. It’s nice to see a world leader with his heart in the right place, and sticking up for what is right, even when you’re beset with silly comments like, “The market is king, oil will make America great.”
      (And the technology has actually come along a lot in the last decade or so. Overall, the small added costs in ‘complexity’ and ‘maintenance’ are more than offset by real fuel and emissions savings.)

      • RioVenti

        1. oil rig workers are an extremely specialized skill, they cannot be retrained to put up solar panels with the required incense rituals and chakra divining rods. If they could, why can’t welfare recipients get jobs at MacDonalds? 2. green energy offers oil companies no market opportunities, if it did, they would invest in it. 3. all the green energy successes were due to subsidies, which oil companies don’t receive. 4. If Church and State weren’t separated, the natural laws of goodness would flow out from men and do all the good things you talk about in business, without government saying “no” to this kind of motivation, but “yes” to a Godless form of motivation.

      • marcusnh

        1. oil rig workers can be retrained. And should be. (And, even if they couldn’t, I care more about the environment than about their immediate jobs.) Welfare recipients, with the right encouragement and training (which I agree is hard in a culture that’s being increasingly gutted by attitudes based on ‘the market is king’) can get any job they put their mind to. So let’s give them clean-green options. 2. Green energy offers abundant opportunities for the future. It’s the way of the future, (pretty obvious really.) It is increasingly being invested it, and would be more so if it weren’t for the ridiculous lobbying of evil groups like ALEC. 3. Subsidies are a tiny part of the picture. You’re not looking big picture. 4. Church and State separation seems like a very different topic to me. Whether they’re separate or combined doesn’t necessarily affect what sort of energy solutions we invest in.

      • RioVenti

        1. you want to be argumentative, but not site any sources. 2. your bias is obviously partisan. 3. economics are not a strong suit of the party who’s talking points you echo. 4. God put oil under our feet, it’s natural, solar panels are man made. 5. ALEC is one of the only bodies left that are willing to stand up and defend the production of things people love to hate, but hate not to have. 6. Religion and oil are intrinsically linked. if they weren’t there would be no terrorism that can only be stopped by domestic drilling which is impossible due to fuel efficiency and the price drop it caused. 7. welfare recipients need jobs. not green jobs, not clean jobs, just jobs. And theres plenty of them out there, but they aren’t being filled by welfare recipients, hence illegals coming in.

      • Please keep the discussion civil and on-topic. Further comments in violation of our comment policy will be removed, and the commenters blacklisted.

      • RioVenti

        Sorry, I’ll attempt to defend Conservative American values in a way that not attack other people’s partisanism.

      • marcusnh

        1. Sorry to get your back up about this. I’m not trying to be argumentative for argument’s sake (as you seem to be implying,) I’m simply trying to get you to think about the points I have to make. I feel they’re good ones, worthy of replies like, “You’re right, I hadn’t thought of that,” or, “Okay, I see your point, but you might not have considered…” I don’t feel they’re worthy of comments, (to paraphrase only,) “I’m right, you’re wrong, you must be partisan” (which, I’m not, but if so, is that bad? If so, explain to me why you feel it is.) Most of what I have to say is either, I feel, either common sense or common knowledge, and shouldn’t require the citing of sources. 2. I’m a New Zealander. I’m not ‘partisan’ in the context of the upcoming USA election of course. I stick up for the environment, because that’s what I believe in. In my opinion sticking up for the environment is one of mankind’s most pressing duties, and should be done in a bipartisan way. Don’t you feel that way yourself? 3. Are you implying I’m pro-Republican?!? I ask that because it would seem, from my admittedly outsider point of view, that the USA Republican party are the ones lacking in economic nouse. (For the record, I’m anti-Republican only because of their consistent attacks on legislation designed to protect the environment and support of legislation designed, it would seem, to widen the gap between rich and poor, another thing I’m opposed to in principle.) 4. Yup, I agree, God put oil under our feet. He also gave us science to understand the deadly danger to the planet caused by human-induced global warming, caused by the overuse of fossil fuels (and no, I’m not going to cite references. There are thousands of thousands of papers supporting this conclusion. If you want to, have a look at this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWXoRSIxyIU.) And, by the way, He also gave us THE SUN, and the brains to harness it for energy production! 5. This is a small part of why I consider ALEC to be evil http://grist.org/climate-energy/alec-calls-for-penalties-on-free-rider-solar-panel-users/ 6. I agree, traditionally there have been noticeable links between oil and religion, but I don’t see that it intrinsically has to be that way (and I don’t really know what the benefits or disadvantages would be one way or the other. I agree also that oil and terrorism have links. But again, I don’t believe it’s necessarily a can’t-have-one-without-the-other sort of thing. Have a look at this doco, it’s interesting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TXG70xAnSU Not sure I take everything in here at face-value of course, but it does highlight a number of very worrying points.) 7. Why are you now talking about “…illegals coming in”? I still feel that my point about clean-green energy being the way of the future, and a source of many more jobs is valid. How those jobs are filled is up for debate. Perhaps countries around the world who are concerned about illegal immigrants should train up their own people in clean green energy jobs before they get taken by the aforementioned?

      • JGlackin

        Thank you for so freely disclosing your bigotry and ignorance.

      • RioVenti

        What about energy racism? To exclude native energies from the earth, such as coal and oil, to a “genetically superior” master energy like solar and wind power that’s man made from rare earths and made in a way that creates a lot of pollution in manufacturing? How is it right to enslave the wind and not pay it a fair wage? Oil drilling employees are paid fair wages. And since there are more jobs in petroleum, wind and solar energy is the equivalent replacing low skilled minority dominated jobs with robot house cleaners and fast food automation. How is that not bigoted?

      • JGlackin

        Long ago I promised my mother I would not ridicule the enfeebled.

        Good night.

  • Larry Cook

    great, now figure a way to pay drivers what their worth.>>>>>>>>>> SLAVE LABOR

  • Gary Gerber

    We are doing our part to reduce the pollution of our fleet by using biodiesel fuel (from 100% recycled oil). Unfortunately, modern diesel engines have been engineered such that they can no longer handle B-100. Will this new rule reverse that?

    • This rule is not related to fuel specifications or criteria pollution. While many modern diesel engines are certified to B20, B100 is problematic for pollution control devices, and that would not change without adjusting the fuel specs for B100 or forcing alternative pollution controls, neither of which is covered in this rule.