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Transportation and global warming
The New York Times, October 25, 2010

New U.S. Standards Take Aim at Truck Emissions and Fuel Economy
By John M. Broder

WASHINGTON — The federal government announced the first national emissions and fuel economy standards for heavy vehicles on Monday, one of a series of regulatory steps that the Obama administration is taking to increase energy efficiency and reduce atmospheric pollution in the absence of Congressional action on climate change.

The administration also announced approval of a major solar power installation on public land in the California desert, a step toward weaning the nation from dependence on fossil fuels. Together they represent what President Obama has called a more “bite-size” approach to global warming that he intends to pursue while efforts to pass comprehensive legislation are stalled.

The mileage proposal, which is scheduled to become final next year after a period of public comment, will apply to tractor-trailers, buses, delivery vans, heavy pickup trucks, cement mixers and many other classes of vehicles. It will cover new vehicles manufactured between 2014 and 2018.

The proposed policy would apply different standards to different vehicles, based on weight and intended use. For example, over-the-road tractor-trailers would be required to achieve a 20 percent reduction in fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions by 2018. Heavy-duty pickups and vans would be subject to different gasoline and diesel fuel standards, with reductions ranging from 10 to 15 percent. Other work trucks would have to reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent by 2018.

Lisa P. Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said that the new standards were an extension of the mileage and emissions rules that the administration had already adopted for passenger cars and light trucks. She said that lower fuel costs for truckers would more than cover the costs of the technology used to meet the new standards and would create jobs in truck manufacturing and related industries.

“Over all, this program will save $41 billion and much of it will stay home in the U.S. economy rather than paying for imported oil,” she said in a briefing.

The standards draw from a study issued this year by the National Academy of Sciences, which found that existing technology — including low-rolling-resistance tires, improved aerodynamics, more efficient engines, hybrid electric drive systems and idling controls — could cut fuel use in trucks by a third to a half.

The standards proposed by the administration, after extensive consultation with manufacturers and trucking companies and a detailed review by the White House Office of Management and Budget, are significantly less ambitious to keep costs manageable, officials said.

Heavy vehicles account for more than 10 percent of the nation’s overall oil consumption and about 20 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted by the transportation sector. Because fuel use by trucks and buses is growing faster than most other emissions that contribute to global warming, even relatively modest cuts in diesel consumption will pay large environmental benefits, Ms. Jackson said.

The new rules proposed by the E.P.A. and the Department of Transportation reflect the different patterns of use for varying types of trucks. Long-haul freightliners and buses typically travel 100,000 miles a year and can achieve large fuel savings with relatively small investments in technology. Fire trucks and cement mixers, on the other hand, travel relatively few miles annually and thus have a lower target.

The American Trucking Associations praised the approach, saying that allowing manufacturers and truck users to find ways to meet defined new mileage standards was preferable to imposing a fuel tax or a broad program for reducing carbon dioxide emissions on the entire transportation sector. The group said that it was withholding more detailed comment until it studied the proposed regulations.

Luke Tonachel, an expert on clean vehicles at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, called heavy trucks and buses the “energy hogs of America’s roadways” and said that their fuel use could be cut beyond what the administration had proposed.

“President Obama did the right thing by encouraging the creation of these standards,” Mr. Tonachel said in a statement, “but today’s proposal should be strengthened further to maximize the environmental, security and economic benefits.”

Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton