Obama admin announces first-ever fuel standards for trucks; industry reacts

C.J. Ciaramella | Contributor

In a move lauded by many members of the trucking industry, the White House announced new fuel efficiency standards for medium and heavy trucks Monday — the first time fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas pollution standards have been set for heavy duty vehicles.

The new standards, crafted jointly by the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency, require semi-trucks from model years 2014-2018 to achieve an approximate 20 percent reduction in fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, saving up to 4 gallons of fuel for every 100 miles traveled.

Heavy-duty pickups and vehicles like buses, delivery trucks, or vans would save 1 gallon per 100 miles, and in total, the administration expects the new regulations will save 530 million barrels of oil over the lifetime of vehicles sold between 2014 and 2018.

They standards are part of a larger set of fuel efficiency standards crafted by the administration. In July, the administration announced an aggressive increase to Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, requiring automakers to reach an average 55.4 mpg for passenger cars by 2025. The current CAFE standard for 2011 is 30.2 mpg.

“While we were working to improve the efficiency of cars and light-duty trucks, something interesting happened,” President Obama said in a statement yesterday. “We started getting letters asking that we do the same for medium and heavy-duty trucks. They were from the people who build, buy, and drive these trucks. And today, I’m proud to have the support of these companies as we announce the first-ever national policy to increase fuel efficiency and decrease greenhouse gas pollution from medium and heavy-duty trucks.”

Overall, the administration expects the standards to yield an estimated $50 billion in net benefits over the lifetime of vehicles sold between 2014 and 2018. The Department of Transportation predicts semi-truck drivers will see a net savings of $73,000 through reduced fuel costs. The fuel-savings will match the cost of upgrading the vehicle within one year of driving, the DOT said.

So far, the trucking industry has for the most part lauded the new standards.

American Trucking Associations President and CEO Bill Graves said the group’s members “have been pushing for the setting of fuel efficiency standards for some time and today marks the culmination of those efforts.”

“While it is too early to know all the potential effects of this rule, we do know it sets us on the path to a future where we depend less on foreign oil, spend less on fuel and contribute less to climate change,” Graves continued.

The Engine Manufacturers Association and the Truck Manufacturers Association also supported the new efficiency rules.

For companies operating large fleets of trucks, long-term operating costs are just as much of a concern, if not more, than the initial sticker price of a vehicle.

For smaller companies, though, the new regulations may be more burdensome. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, an organization representing small trucking companies and owners, argued the standards will drive up costs for small businesses. The government should have focused on training drivers to use less fuel, the association said.

Republicans also knocked the new fuel regulations. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s spokesman wrote on Cantor’s blog that such rules “further tie the hands of job creators and add yet another hurdle to getting the economy up and running.”

“The result of these regulations means increased costs for businesses and families, and fewer jobs for workers,” the spokesman wrote. “Rather than placing additional burdens on working families and small businesses, Washington should be focused on removing barriers to growth and fostering an environment for job creation.”

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