Trucks’ savings to be green

Ivy Li (李诗聪) is a summer intern with chinadialogue in San Francisco.

President Obama announced the first-ever programme to control greenhouse-gas emissions and improve fuel efficiency for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles on August 9. The scheme will help vehicle owners and operators save US$50 billion in fuel costs between 2014 and 2018, and will cut carbon emissions by approximately 270 million tonnes. 

Heavy-duty vehicles are widely used for public functions, such as goods delivery and school buses, and they account for 12% of US oil consumption and 6% of US greenhouse-gas emissions. Diesel vehicles still dominate the sector because they cost less to run than gasoline ones. Burning one gallon of diesel fuel produces more than 22 pounds (almost 10kg) of CO2, 3 pounds (1.4kg) more than each gallon of gasoline fuel does. The new standards will save a typical heavy-duty pickup truck one gallon of diesel or gasoline for every 100 miles (62.1km) travelled, which will lead to a 15% cut in greenhouse-gas emissions from these vehicles by 2018. 

Besides the climate-change impacts of burning diesel and gasoline fuel, the particulate matter released in the process can cause respiratory and cardiovascular illness. Diesel exhaust especially is mentioned as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" in the Eleventh Report on Carcinogens published by the National Toxicology Program. Studies have also shown that diesel-truck traffic often concentrates in low-income communities, raising a major local health concern, especially for children and the elderly. In the neighbourhoods of Wilmington and Long Beach in California, for example, 21.9% of the children between the ages of five and 17 suffer from asthma, 7.7% higher than the national rate.

As early as 2001, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) started a national programme for regulating diesel fuel for heavy-duty vehicles, focusing primarily on sulphur control. The latest scheme is the first action to turn spotlight on carbon-dioxideemissions and higher-standard air quality, including the improvement of ozone and air quality by decreasing particulate matter, which results in estimated societal benefits of up to US$4.2 billion in 2030.  

The EPA provided the carbon-dioxide emissions standards for the programme, while the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) set the fuel-consumption standards. Because vehicles burn more fuel when they carry heavier loads, the joint standards also encourage manufacturers to consider the engine and vehicle load as a whole, and should help to maximise reductions in fuel consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions. 

The new programme, which will bring benefits on a large scale, was actually initiated by the truck industry, according to President Obama. This represents an example of a corporate achievement for the environment, the economy and society. It’s estimated that a semi truck operator can typically make net savings of US$73,000 over a truck’s serviceable time by reducing oil consumption – and so the programme is winning applause from the American truck industry and environmentalists alike.  

Photo courtesy of LukeRobinson1