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And Obama Said: ‘Let Trucks Have Improved Fuel Efficiency’

Commercial trucks will soon have to dramatically improve their fuel efficiency under new standards proposed Friday by the Obama administration.

The proposal, which has the dual goals of reducing both fuel costs and carbon emissions, would apply to vehicles such as garbage trucks, 18-wheelers and heavy-duty pickup trucks manufactured after 2021, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA developed the rules in conjunction with the Department of Transportation.

The rules are part of Obama’s “making progress through executive action” agenda, according to a White House fact sheet, and “will build on the first-ever standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles (model years 2014 through 2018),” which the administration finalized in 2011.

Obama had instructed the EPA and DOT to submit the new rules by March 2015, though it does not appear that the agencies’ tardiness will prevent them from taking effect on schedule, as a final version is expected sometime next year after the proposal goes through a public comment period.

For most vehicle types, the standards will be phased in gradually between 2021 and 2027, with credits available for manufacturers that participate voluntarily before then. (RELATED: Time to Revisit Trucking Regulations: Bigger Trucks are Good for Roads and the Environment)

The most stringent standards are those for tractors (the part of a truck that houses the engine and cab), which, the EPA claims, “account for roughly two thirds of total [greenhouse gas] emissions and fuel consumption from the heavy-duty sector.” Once they are fully phased-in, the new standards would reduce the fuel consumption of tractors by about 24 percent, compared with the current standard.

The EPA envisions a slightly smaller reduction of 16 percent for both vocational vehicles—such as delivery trucks, refuse haulers, public utility trucks, and school buses—and heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans.

Once the standards are fully implemented, the EPA projects they “will save vehicle owners approximately $170 billion in fuel costs over the lifetime of the vehicles sold in the regulatory timeframe,” whereas vehicle costs would increase by about $25 billion, resulting in significant net benefits to the trucking industry. (RELATED: Truckers Want Car Drivers to Pick up Highway Tab)

In fact, the EPA asserts, “the typical buyer of a new long-haul truck in 2027 would recoup the extra cost of the technology in under two years through fuel savings,” after which point they would represent “money in the owner’s pocket.”

Trucking industry groups and large fleet owners are generally supporting the proposal, though some have expressed concerns that cost increases will exceed the government’s estimates, particularly in the early stages of the transition, Fox Business reports.

“We’re fearful the cost and the impact from that cost would exceed the benefits we get,” Randy Mullett, vice president of government relations and public affairs for truck manufacturer Con-way, told Fox. (RELATED: Truck Dealers Say EPA Regulations Worthless, Costly)

“Our goal is the same as [the EPA’s]: to get a rule that is meaningful,” Mullett added. “We also want greenhouse gas reduction, just in a way that doesn’t break the industry’s back.”

Glen Kedzie, a vice president at the American Trucking Association, gave The Wall Street Journal a similar assessment, calling the standards “a good thing for our companies with certain caveats.”

“We want to see a return on our investment within 18 months with anything that we purchase that we put on a tractor or trailer,” Kedzie explained. Yet while the EPA has suggested that such a timeframe is feasible, the eventual reality will depend heavily on the success manufacturers have in developing and implementing the new technologies necessary to meet the new requirements.

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