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Coalition of Conscious Companies Asks EPA to Strengthen Big Rig Emissions Standards

A coalition of a dozen major food brands and retailers (and Patagonia!) have asked federal regulators not to back down on reducing trucking emissions and increasing fuel economy.

Led by advocacy group Ceres, the outdoor retailer for conscious consumers — along with food giants including General Mills, Ben & Jerry’s, Stonyfield Farm, Clif Bar, Annie’s and Organic Valleywrote a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) last week asking them to resist efforts to weaken proposed truck regulations.

The 12 companies, which say they account for more than 500 million freight miles driven annually, are seeking a 40 percent reduction in fuel use from the nation’s heavy trucks fleet by 2025, as opposed to the federal proposal, which is seeking 36 percent savings by 2027.

“We believe that stronger cost-effective standards make economic and environmental sense,” the companies said. “The availability of fuel-efficient trucks is critical to reducing our carbon footprints as well as our fuel costs and ultimately cost-savings to the consumer.”

Ceres’ Businesses for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP) initiative, members of which include several of the same companies, last year wrote to the agencies asking them to strengthen the proposed standards to require a 40 percent reduction in fuel consumption by 2025.

“Freight trucks already account for over half a billion tons of climate warming carbon emissions a year and are the fastest growing single source of emissions,” the companies said in Friday’s letter. “Stronger standards would save an additional 40 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 – equivalent to shutting down an additional 12 coal-fired power plants.”

As Seth Sparks pointed out in in response to the letter: “The trucking industry is carefully monitoring the federal government’s efforts to increase emissions and fuel economy standards. It’s a thorny issue because savings could be achieved in a variety of ways that include improvements to truck tractors, trailers, tire technology and other equipment. How much each component of a big-rig should contribute to savings and how it all fits together when so many manufacturers are making different parts of semi-trailer truck remains an industry debate.”

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, tractor-trailers, buses, delivery vans and other trucks emit 23 percent of carbon pollution from the transportation sector but account for only about 4 percent of the vehicles on the road.

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) responded in October in support of the proposed standards but voiced a number of concerns, including the cost of the technology needed to meet the standards and requirements for add-on equipment for tractor-trailers. The group said the goal of the standards should be to “achieve the greatest efficiency improvements at the least overall cost while minimizing downtime, maximizing durability, and recognizing a positive return on investment over the course of equipment ownership.”

The importance of trucking’s role in the economy has prompted the food and retail industry to enter the debate.

The companies point out in the letter that shippers spend $650 billion a year on trucking services, and that “strong efficiency standards for heavy trucks will help our companies avoid billions of dollars in fuel costs and at the same time support the U.S. economy by keeping product transportation affordable and insulating freight costs from volatile global and regional crude oil prices.”

In June, the EPA and the NHTSA proposed standards for medium and heavy-duty vehicles to improve fuel efficiency and cut carbon pollution. The standards, known as Phase 2, would cut carbon pollution by roughly 1 billion metric tons and save approximately 75 billion gallons of fuel over the lifetime of the vehicles subject to the standards. The agencies said that while the technology would make trucks more expensive, buyers would recoup costs within two to six years, depending on the vehicle type.

The ATA supported the phase 1 standards and supports the second round of fuel-efficiency rules as well — but it’s not endorsing phase 2 yet, says ATA vice president and energy and environmental counsel Glen Kedzie.

“We are concerned about technology-forcing standards because if we are put in a position to adopt technologies that are not tested adequately, then it tends to disrupt fleet operations with respect to breakdowns, down time, additional towing situations and parts replacement,” Kedzie told Environmental Leader. He also said the expense of new technologies could place additional financial stress on trucking companies, 96 percent of which are small businesses.

Trucking companies are also facing increased driver pay and insurance premiums, and they are concerned about being able to afford the new technologies, as well as maintenance costs associated with them.

Last year, a Union of Concerned Scientists study found that a 40 percent decrease in fuel use for heavy-duty trucks would result in billions of dollars in fuel cost savings and is achievable with existing technology: According to the report, if today’s trucks met a 40 percent standard, oil use would be reduced by 9 billion gallons from shipping goods alone, saving truckers $30 billion in fuel costs and cutting more than 110 million tons of CO2 emissions.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Defense Fund’s Green Freight initiative is working with consumer product companies and large fleets to reduce the environmental impact of product distribution in the U.S.