The new fuel standards for medium and heavy-duty vehicles have arrived in phase II of the federal government’s initiative to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of the Department of Transportation, acting together, released the new standards. The changes are impressive and are generally supported by the industry.
Bill Graves, President of American Trucking Associations (ATA) has said, “Fuel is an enormous expense for our industry—and carbon emissions carry an enormous cost for our planet. That’s why our industry supported the Obama administration’s first round of greenhouse gas and fuel-efficiency standards for medium and large trucks and why we support this second round of standards.”
There has been some industry concern that the new rules could force premature deployment of new technology posing a safety concern on the road, but the new guidelines will be implemented gradually and do not actually stipulate how manufacturers are to achieve the standards—they may use any combination of several existing technologies that work for them.
Of greater concern is the paradox that increased fuel efficiency can easily result in increased fuel use.
Essentially, as the per-mile cost of driving goes down, it becomes economically feasible to drive more miles. As a result, actual fuel use does not go down as much as anticipated, and could ultimately increase. The new standards are an important part of the critical fight against climate change, because they give the industry the option to dramatically reduce fuel use—but the standards alone will not ensure that anyone takes that option.
One way the industry can ensure that the new standards work as intended is for carriers to commit to reducing the number of miles their trucks travel and the number of hours their engines run. Incorporation of GPS tracking software actually supports these goals by making dispatch and routing more efficient and by making it much easier to train drivers not to engage in speeding, idling, and other behaviors that increase fuel use. Fleets that adopt GPS tracking services typically see a dramatic reduction in fuel use as a result.
The trucking industry is an especially important target for emissions reduction because medium and heavy-duty trucks produce dramatically more than their share of greenhouses gasses—about 20% of the transportation sector’s emissions—even though they comprise only about 5% of vehicles on the road, according to the EPA. The trucking industry now has the opportunity to make a major impact.