Go Farther, Faster to Cut Truck Pollution

The U.S. has put in place well-designed policies to cut climate pollution, and, with adopted and proposed policies, the nation’s 2025 climate reduction goals are within reach.  However, we are not there yet, and important work remains.

Big trucks have a critical contribution to make in cutting emissions now and well into the future. Cost-effective technologies are available to significantly reduce fuel use. Conversely, if we don’t take common sense steps today to cut climate-destabilizing emissions from this sector, climate emissions are projected to rise by approximately 15 percent by 2040. This is particularly problematic when you consider that the nation must reduce carbon emissions by at least 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050 to prevent severe, potentially catastrophic, levels of climate change. Without further action to cut emissions from heavy-trucks, the sector would consume nearly 40 percent of our national 2050 emissions budget – a level that is clearly not sustainable.

Pepsi truck


The good news is that there is much that can be done to reduce emissions from trucks while also saving money; this year we have a unique opportunity to get started. As EPA Administrator McCarthy recently noted, finalizing new greenhouse gas (GHG) standards for heavy-duty vehicles is a priority in 2016.

Given the combination of environmental and economic benefits that strong GHG standards will provide, many leading companies have already shown public support. PepsiCo and Walmart – two of the largest trucking fleets in the U.S. — support strong standards. General Mills, Campbell’s Soup, IKEA and many other companies that rely on trucking support strong standards. Innovative manufacturers support strong standards.

So, where do we go from here?

The draft proposal issued jointly by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) in June 2015 is a good step, particularly because it maintains a sound, enforceable structure of separate engine and vehicle standards. However, the proposal leaves significant emission reductions on the table, specifically in its engine standard.

The first generation of heavy truck fuel efficiency standards required engines to reduce fuel use and emissions by 6 percent from 2010 to 2017, or roughly 1 percent per year. The current draft would require reductions of only 4.2 percent from 2017 through 2030. Nearly all of this progress occurs between 2021 and 2024. Between 2025 and 2030 these standards increase by only 0.5 percent.  The hill we need to climb to achieve our 2050 emissions goals is steep enough without losing critical time to such nominal progress.

We can do more.

  • Finalizing stronger standards today will deliver more than just near-term emissions reductions. Trucks are long-lived assets. Some trucks manufactured in 2025 will still be on the road well into the middle of this century. The trucks we put on the road in 2030 will impact our ability to meet 2050 targets – and to avoid catastrophic climate change.
  • Stronger standards also enable a virtuous cycle of improvement. A higher bar for these next standards will drive additional investments in research and development and expedite market entry of the next generation of solutions. This, in turn, drives the innovation we will need to enable this sector to contribute to achieving our 2050 targets. All while creating an annual economic benefit of $50 billion dollars.

The savings potential we are seeing now is only the tip of the iceberg. As an executive with the Volvo Group – a leading global producer of heavy-trucks — recently highlighted, “there are no real limits” to our technical ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from trucks.  Our limitations are societal choices.

When it comes to trucks, we know that much greater emission savings than have been proposed are eminently reasonable. We know more protective standards are readily within reach – one of the largest truck makers created a truck that gets 12.2 MPG and another leading manufacturer and engine company teamed-up to create a 10.7 MPG truck.

These breakthroughs and others have come through the Department of Energy’s SuperTruck program — a leading public-private partnership that has delivered impressive results over the past decade and is investing another $80 million to develop more fuel saving solutions. Included among its current research investments are a medium-duty plug-in hybrid vehicle powertrain that reduces fuel consumption by 50 percent; a class 6 plug in hybrid delivery truck that reduces fuel consumption by 50 percent; and a class 6 delivery truck with a scalable, innovative, lightweight, low-cost, and commercially-viable plug-in electric drive system that improves fuel economy by 100 percent.

Here’s hoping the EPA and DOT, recognizing the clear potential of existing and emerging technology, will finalize the protective standards we need to cut truck pollution farther, faster, strengthen our economy and achieve U.S. climate goals.

This post originally appeared on our EDF+Business blog.

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