Feds rev new push for better truck gas mileage

CONSUMER FORUM
By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT
Posted Oct. 05, 2015, at 6:39 a.m.

Click image to link to transportation.gov

It has been four years since President Barack Obama’s administration proposed first-ever fuel standard for medium- and heavy-duty trucks. Last Thursday, the comment period on the second round of rules closed, and it seems environmentalists and trucking industry officials like what they’ve seen.

On the day the president proposed standards, Rich Freeland, president of Cummins engines division, told reporters the target mileage figures were tough but supportable.

“This one lines up with what customers want, and they want fuel economy,” Freeland said.

The industry originally asked the Environmental Protection Agency to write the rules. Congress asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, to do it. Some industry officials worried manufacturers might have to adhere to multiple sets of rules if regulators worked separately. NHTSA and EPA spoke with one voice in writing the performance standards, and industry people say they worked in the real world.

When the second round of rules-writing began early last year, the president and CEO of the American Trucking Association called for a smart blend of science and economics. Bill Graves said better fuel standards will benefit the industry and consumers alike through lower costs.

“However, we should make sure that the new rules don’t conflict with safety or other environmental regulations, nor should they force specific types of technology onto the market before they are fully tested and ready,” Graves added.

Regulators listened and left out technology mandates. Trucking companies are expected to adopt changes that work best for them, likely starting with pollution control devices. Other changes may include more streamlined cabs, better — and possibly fewer — tires and direct injection engines.

At the time standards were first proposed, one trucking executive estimated fuel savings over the lifetime of a truck at $7,200. With cost estimated at $1,000, the math was clear. Getting more miles on less fuel and encouraging cleaner technologies add up to a triple win.

Not everyone’s cheering, though. Some environmentalists are calling for higher mpg targets. The Consumer Federation of America, or CFA, filed comments Thursday with NHTSA and EPA. The group said, while the agencies had done a good job analyzing the problem, the cost-benefit figure to reach proposed targets is still about 6-to-1.

As CFA’s research director Mark Cooper put it in a statement, “they are leaving a lot of fuel savings on the table. We urge them to further examine whether or not more savings are achievable.”

The proposed standards do not mandate hybrid engines in trucks. Some observers expect environmentalists to press for such a move in the future.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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