More Efficient Trucks and Buses to Hit the Streets

In the Obama administration’s second major announcement about vehicle fuel efficiency this summer, President Obama and representatives of the trucking industry unveiled a plan Tuesday to cut fuel consumption and carbon emissions from some of the nation’s largest vehicles.  Under the new rules, large trucks and buses will be required to ramp up fuel efficiency for the first time in US history.

Though smaller personal vehicles have long been regulated to ensure a measure of fuel efficiency, similar standards have never before been applied to buses, semis, and other heavy duty vehicles.  This is somewhat ironic, as these very large vehicles account for nearly 20% of oil consumption in the US transportation sector.  The cost of fueling large trucks and buses is also a drain on the budgets of companies and government entities that use these big vehicles.

“Thanks to the Obama administration, for the first time in our history we have a common goal for increasing the fuel efficiency of the trucks that deliver our products, the vehicles we use at work, and the buses our children ride to school,” said US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “These new standards will reduce fuel costs for businesses, encourage innovation in the manufacturing sector, and promote energy independence for America.”

Under the new standards, tractor trailers and the biggest trucks will have to cut fuel consumption by 20% by the year 2018.  Meanwhile large vans and pickup trucks will be required to improve fuel economy by 15%, and garbage trucks and buses by 10%.  According to the administration, this will save 530 million barrels of oil and 270 million metric tons of the carbon emissions that cause climate change.

The new truck and bus standards build on the Obama administration’s successful efforts to implement stricter fuel economy standards for smaller, personal vehicles.  Under a rule announced in 2009, average fuel economy of cars and small trucks will be ramped up to 35.5 miles per gallon by the year 2016.  A second set of rules unveiled at the end of last month will increase the car standard to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

Working on those standards for cars apparently inspired administration officials to begin pursuing similar rules for heavy vehicles—a goal the administration saw as beneficial for both consumers and the environment.

“While we were working to improve the efficiency of cars and light-duty trucks,” President Obama said on Tuesday, “something interesting happened.  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.”

Sure enough, the new standards have enjoyed strong support from the trucking industry.  “Today’s announcement by President Obama is welcome news to us in the trucking industry,” said Bill Graves, President and CEO of the American Trucking Associations.  “Our members have been pushing for the setting of fuel efficiency standards for some time, and today marks the culmination of those efforts.”

Environmental groups praised the new standards as well, saying they will help reduce climate change and dependence on oil.  Cutting fuel consumption from large vehicles will also reduce air pollutants that cause illness and premature death in people.

“By setting fuel efficiency and carbon pollution standards for medium and heavy duty trucks,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, “we will, for the first time, be able to clean up and improve the performance of the delivery trucks, city buses and freight trucks that Americans rely on each day, clearing our air, saving truckers and businesses money at the pump, creating jobs and bringing the nation a step closer to moving beyond oil.”

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