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

August 16, 2016
Photo: Randy Heinitz/Creative Commons (Flickr)
Ken Kimmell
Former contributor

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.