EPA, truck makers tout 'clean diesel' as GHG standards loom

With the Obama administration preparing to propose new greenhouse gas efficiency standards for heavy-duty trucks, the success of U.S. EPA's initiative to reduce conventional diesel pollution suggests that truck makers are up to the new challenge, industry and agency officials said today.

The trucks that were on the market in 1988 produced about 60 times more particulate matter than the new trucks that meet EPA's 2010 emissions standards, truck makers say, and much of those reductions were driven by the agency's clean-trucks program. The program has produced about 13 times more public health benefits than costs, said Margo Oge, director of the agency's transportation and air quality division.

"If you told me back in the mid '90s that we could bring the two words together, 'clean' and 'diesel,' I would say you were completely out of your mind," Oge told industry leaders during a conference on clean truck technology in Washington, D.C.

With lawmakers threatening to restrict EPA's regulatory authority, the achievement speaks to the agency's ability to solve problems with regulation, said Richard Kassel, an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council who led a campaign for cleaner school buses in New York City.

Earlier this year, President Obama directed EPA and the Department of Transportation to set the first-ever fuel efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks. In a memorandum signed in May, Obama called on the agencies to work on a joint rulemaking with the aim of issuing a final rule by July 30, 2011.


Despite rumors that EPA would issue its proposal this week, Oge declined to give a time frame today. The proposal will be out "soon," she said, though the draft rule that was sent to the White House Aug. 13 has not yet cleared review at the Office of Management and Budget, according to a federal database that tracks the regulatory process.

The regulations would eventually be added to a climate program that already includes standards for cars, light-duty trucks and stationary sources. Obama described large trucks as low-hanging fruit in that effort, citing estimates that tractor-trailers account for half of the sector's greenhouse gas emissions and that the vehicles could boost fuel efficiency by 25 percent with existing technology (Greenwire, May 21).

Patrick Charbonneau, vice president of government relations at truck maker Navistar, said the existing pollution program is a testament to the viability of federal truck regulations. By taking a "systems approach" that included the adoption of low-sulfur fuel, EPA helped truck makers achieve greater reductions than would otherwise be possible, he said.

"The next challenge is right around the corner," said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum. "That is to retain this incredible environmental progress while attacking the next challenge, and that is to lower greenhouse gases through improved fuel economy."

Frank O'Donnell, president of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch, called the conference a "dog and pony show," saying that more needs to be done to get cleaner trucks on the road. He called for the reauthorization of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, a 2005 bill that has provided incentives for companies that retrofit their dirtier trucks.

"Because diesel engines are so durable, the majority of trucks on the road continue to spew out toxic fumes," O'Donnell said in an e-mail. "Indeed, literally millions of dirty diesel engines remain on the road."

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