Heavy Truck Efficiency Standards Can Make DOE Investment a Success for Jobs, Security and Environment

Two years ago, diesel price spikes near $4/gallon sent truckers protesting in Washington. We all felt part of the pain too because nearly everything we buy travels somewhere on a truck and the higher transportation costs were passed along. Fortunately, the Department of Energy (DOE) is increasing needed investments in fuel-saving technologies for trucks to lessen the impact of future price jumps. When coupled with new fuel efficiency standards, those investments could result in a cleaner truck fleet that runs on less petroleum.

With a burn rate of over 2 million barrels of oil per day, freight trucks are the second only to passenger cars in transportation sector oil consumption. Trucks are also responsible for 18 percent of transportation sector global warming pollution.

Yesterday, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced $178 million in grants to improve fuel efficiency of heavy-duty trucks and passenger cars. Most of the funding supports fuel-saving technologies for the largest freight trucks, which cover nearly three-quarters of US on-road freight miles. While many efficient heavy truck technologies have been proven to be cost-effective, they have yet to be widely adopted. These grants will help move the technologies out of labs and demos and into the fleet.

According to a recent report published by the Northeast States Center for a Clean Air Future (NESCAAF), International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), Southwest Research Institute and TIAX LLC, the fuel consumption of new long-haul tractor trailers can be lowered by 20 percent in 2012 and as much as 50 percent in 2017.

To guarantee that new trucks incorporate cleaner, more efficient technologies the federal government must act quickly to implement fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for all heavy trucks. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requires the Department of Transportation to set fuel economy standards for heavy trucks but the regulatory has yet to begin. The EPA can also move ahead with GHG standards under the Clean Air Act and is directed to do so under the House-passed American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. The sooner the standards are in place, the sooner the truckers (and their customers) can be insulated from price spikes and the sooner global warming pollution can be reduced.

As with other clean energy technologies, the U.S. has the opportunity to lead the world. We can capture the market for clean truck technologies and its accompanying manufacturing jobs. According to DOE, the investment announced yesterday will create over 500 new jobs that could balloon to over 6,000 jobs by 2015. That’s a great first step. By establishing truck fuel efficiency and GHG emissions standards, the federal government can help ensure that a vibrant and long-lasting clean truck industry grows in the U.S.