Article

The Politics of Green

Environmental and energy issues are hot topics on Capitol Hill. What they'll mean for trucking is anyone's guess. But you can count on one thing: They will have an effect.

August 2007, TruckingInfo.com - Cover Story

by Deborah Lockridge, Editor in Chief - Also by this author

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There are various proposals and various bills that are circulating on both the House and the Senate side, it seems on almost a weekly basis," that deal with the environment and energy conservation, says Glen Kedzie, American Trucking Associations vice president of environmental affairs.

"If you look at the bills and amendments and committee recommendations, this is a hot topic in Washington, and frankly, nobody can really predict what's going to happen when."

Energy legislation and climate change legislation are both being debated separately, Kedzie says, but they can't help but affect each other. "Which is the more pressing issue for the nation and the world? Is it to reduce carbon, or is it to be independent from foreign sources of oil?"

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Those two goals are not always compatible, he notes. For instance, coal-to-liquid technology being pushed in Congress would limit dependence on foreign oil. But unless some advanced technologies are used to keep carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) from being released during the process, it will mean more greenhouse gases – a larger "carbon footprint" that contributes to global warming.

At press time, trucking lobbyists had managed to get the Senate to drop a proposal that would have imposed fuel-economy, or CAFE, standards on heavy-duty trucks (see story on page 62). Instead, the bill would give the Departments of Energy and Transportation and the EPA 18 months to come up with a way to measure efficiency in on-highway trucks, and then propose a rule to require improvement.

When it comes to global warming, one popular concept being bandied about is a "carbon tax." But exactly what form a carbon tax may take is very much up in the air.

Theoretically, a carbon tax would be paid whenever a molecule of carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. But how exactly do you implement a carbon tax? Some talk about a carbon tax that would affect corporations, and big emitters such as power utilities, but this of course would end up being passed on to consumers. The idea is that raising the price of energy would reduce energy use, and therefore reduce CO 2 emissions.

Another way to impose a carbon tax is to do it at the fuel pump – at a time when even the trucking industry is saying we already need higher fuel taxes to pay for infrastructure repair and improvement.

Taxing the carbon content of fuels is considered a political impossibility by many. Many proponents of a carbon tax advocate a "revenue-neutral" carbon tax, where other taxes, such as payroll taxes, would be cut, or taxpayers would get some sort of rebate, to offset the additional carbon tax.

"Everybody's talking about carbon trading, taxing, capping," says Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum. "Until you figure out how to measure this stuff, why in the world would you start putting arbitrary limits and numbers out there? Unfortunately it's the result of a lot of pent-up frustration by a lot of members of Congress and a particular dislike of this administration's handling of this kind of thing. It's really misguided. It's saying you have to meet a number before you know how to measure what goes into that number."

Ironically, the clean air regulations that the industry has been dealing with may be at odds with goals of reducing the industry's "carbon footprint" – the amount of greenhouse gases put into the atmosphere that are believed to contribute to global warming. That's because fuel efficiency may drop on the new low-emissions engines, meaning more fuel is burned, and therefore more greenhouses gases, while putting out less pollution.

"So now it's like, 'Oh no, we were cleaning up our nation's air but we were also melting icebergs," Kedzie says. "I don't think they ever envisioned the impacts they would have on energy independence or greenhouse gases when they passed the Clean Air Act. Never did you read anything about carbon output, anything about energy independence (in the clean air regulations). Every other word was PM, NOx, ozone, smog, health effects. Now every other word (on Capitol Hill) is efficiency, energy independence, reducing your carbon footprint."

On the energy independence front, a favorite topic is renewable fuels. Yet while biodiesel may reduce our dependence on foreign oil, the fact that it contains less energy than regular diesel means more fuel must be used. Therefore more greenhouse gases are put into the air. And, Kedzie notes, do we risk trading one energy dependence for another? If subsidies for such fuels go away, the price would dramatically increase. If drought or pestilence affects the output of the crops used to create biodiesel, we might end up relying on importation of biofuel feedstocks instead of importation of foreign oil.

Even if new regulations aimed at global warming or energy independence don't affect trucking directly, there will likely be indirect effects.

For instance, let's say global warming legislation targets power plants instead, perhaps with a carbon tax on the power plant emissions. "That in turn is going to increase the cost of energy production, which will be passed along as much as possible to the consumer," Kedzie says. "With respect to trucking, everything that goes on a truck requires energy to produce – steel, rubber, paint, fuel.

"Even though you might not see a regulation being imposed directly on top of the trucking industry, don't think that the trucking industry will not be impacted. There will be indirect costs, and they will be high indirect costs."

No matter how it happens, he says, "the face of the trucking industry is going to be forever changed as a result of what's happening on these two fronts – energy conservation or energy independence, and reducing greenhouse gases."

EPA PROPOSES TIGHTER SMOG CONTROLS

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing tougher restrictions on the emissions that produce smog, a move that trucking interests say could set the stage for expensive new regulations on older trucks.

The regulation governs how much ozone is in the air.

Repeated exposure to ozone can permanently scar lung tissue, and the agency has new evidence that low levels of ozone damage crops and other vegetation. Ozone is the primary ingredient in smog. It is created in large part by the mixing of engine emissions and volatile organic compounds, including oxides of nitrogen, a byproduct of diesel combustion.

Current rules limit ozone to .08 parts per million in an eight-hour period in a specified area. The proposal would drop that to .07 to .075 ppm. EPA also wants comments on whether it should go even lower.

Other EPA regulations have gone a long way toward lowering NOx emissions from trucks, and the pending 2010 standard will reduce them to near zero. So there really is no way to reduce ozone by cutting emissions from modern trucks, experts say.

"Come 2010, there's nothing really left to address with new engines," said Glenn Kedzie, vice president of environmental affairs, American Trucking Associations.

But a tighter ozone standard would push some counties out of compliance with Clean Air Act standards. This in turn could push states toward requiring older trucks to be retrofitted with new clean air technology, said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum.

That would not be a simple solution for states looking to meet the new ozone standard, but according to Kedzie, states might want to require add-ons in the expectation that carriers would buy newer equipment rather than buying the add-on. "When they do the math they'll say it makes more sense to buy a cleaner truck."

The American Road & Transportation Builders Association pointed out another problem: Non-compliance could cause federal highway funds to be cut off. "This creates a counterproductive cycle where new (air quality standards) delay critically needed improvements to the nation's infrastructure network," the association said in comments to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee

Even if retrofit requirements do come to pass – and it's no sure bet that they will – this rule will be a long time coming.

Kedzie outlined this schedule: a final rule March 12, 2008; the states would have until June 2009 to recommend areas for non-attainment; the EPA would have until June 2010 to confirm the areas; states would have until 2013 to decide how to comply; and it would be 2014 or 2015 before trucks would be affected – all presuming there are no legal challenges to the rule that would extend these deadlines even further.

That means eight more years of cleaner engines coming into the fleet, which would limit the impact even more, Kedzie said.

The proposal was published in the Federal Register June 11. Comments are due by Oct. 9. EPA scheduled public hearings in Los Angeles and Philadelphia on Aug. 30, and in Chicago and Houston on Sept. 5.

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