“It’s really miraculous when you think about an 80,000-lb. Class 8 heavy-duty truck driving down the road, hauling freight, having the same tailpipe emissions as a Ford Taurus. That truly is a feat of engineering to get emissions that low from something doing that much work in society.”
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Talk of a Trump administration rollback of federal heavy-duty vehicle fuel economy standards, or the Phase 2 greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan (GHG 2), is essentially meaningless, suggests an expert in fuel efficiency programs. Truck buyers clearly want more efficient trucks and, even if EPA backs off the GHG 2 mandate, California is ready and willing to roll out even more stringent requirements of its own.
“From the customer’s perspective, there’s a path to get to 10 mpg. If the current administration backs off of Phase 2, maybe that’s fine—because trucking is not typically a big fan of regulation,” says Eric Neandross, CEO at Gladstein, Neandross, and Associates, a consulting firm specializing in clean transportation and organizer of the upcoming Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo. “But if there’s no regulation, does that mean I’m going to stop asking my truck manufacturer to provide more efficient trucks, which they’ve just said they can do? Customers are going to want 10 mpg, Phase 2 or no Phase 2.”
And while the industry has voiced concerns over the capital costs of the new trucks and new technologies of GHG 2, the “long term, big picture” is that fuel cost savings should be significant. The essential difference would be that, without the government’s deadlines, market-driven development could come more slowly.
Indeed, the industry has been focused on the path to 10 mpg and beyond since clearing the significant hurdles imposed by the EPA emissions regs in 2007 and 2010. Neandross cites truck platooning and evolving autonomous truck technology as leading examples of market-driven solutions—ironically, developments that are potentially hampered by the lack of a forward-looking regulatory structure.
But California, through the state’s Air Resources Board (CARB) has no qualms about regulating the future starting today, EPA rules or no. The California Sustainable Freight Action Plan aims to improve freight efficiency and deploy 100,000 vehicles capable of zero-emission operation by 2030.
“CARB will continue to push full steam ahead,” Neandross says. “The intent seems to be to meet any sort of backsliding at the federal level with even more aggressive activity—digging in, if you will. California sees its activities as even more important if there’s not that consistency at the federal level.”
Though some in transportation have suggested that if EPA relaxed the clean air standards that routinely put areas in Southern California into “non-attainment” status, CARB would have no incentive to push ahead.
Indeed, the “strategy” for light-duty vehicle emissions (with heavy-duty to follow suit) shapes up like this, according to Neandross: EPA relaxes clean air standards, then California sets its own. Manufacturers then argue against having two sets of standards. In turn, the federal government takes away the California exemption under the Clean Air Act.
But Neandross points out the state has already hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to protect in court California’s right to set its clean air rules. “They’re ready for battle,” Neandross says.
For trucking, a CARB plan to implement more strict NOx limits is in development and would require such a waiver from the EPA. Additionally, the state is also looking to further reduce the carbon density in transportation fuel, going from the current 10% reduction to a 20-30% reduction.