Commentary: What Happens to SmartWay With EPA Under Fire?

July 2017, - Editorial

by Rolf Lockwood

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Rolf Lockwood
Rolf Lockwood

Looks like SmartWay’s days are numbered, if not those of the entire Environmental Protection Agency. These days Washington is being very unkind to anyone who believes that our shared environment matters, that our ecosystems need protection. Climate-change deniers are having a field day.

I’m no tree-hugger, and definitely no fan of the EPA, but it seems obvious to me that this is short-sighted idiocy that will cost money and jobs in the long run. Lots.

SmartWay was launched by the EPA in 2004. A voluntary government/industry partnership with fleet and vendor members, it aims to reduce the carbon footprint of trucking operations by accelerating the availability and adoption of fuel-saving technologies and practices. EPA says it has cut fuel costs by nearly $25 billion since it was formed.

Believe that figure if you like. The EPA’s numbers have always been suspect in my view, but it doesn’t much matter here. The fact is, fuel-saving technologies have been promoted and lots of people have benefited.

That said, I won’t be especially sad if EPA budget cuts kill SmartWay. We have options. Like NACFE, the North American Council for Freight Efficiency, and Canada’s PIT Group, working in conjunction with the ATA’s Technology & Maintenance Council.

The problem is, SmartWay approval became the de facto spec’ing standard for all manner of gizmology. The California Air Resources Board built requirements around SmartWay approved devices. Big shippers bought in, demanding that carriers spec only SmartWay-approved componentry. Blackmail pure and simple. I know one carrier that emblazoned its trucks with SmartWay decals that they printed themselves, simple fakery that got them in some shippers’ doors.

But SmartWay has never had any testing capacity of its own, so when product X claims official approval, it does so on the basis of the maker’s own testing to meet SmartWay-mandated levels of efficiency improvement. That’s likely to be third-party testing, but it’s no big trial to find questionable evidence applied to the approval process. I’d be wrong to say this is common, and I’d be correct to say that most “approved” tires and skirts and such deserve it. But there has just never been a foolproof way to deal with this.

Yet, SmartWay became god.

The EPA itself is also under threat, along with greenhouse gas emissions mandates. I’ve had problems with that agency from the start. An intensely political beast with not a strong enough foundation in science, the EPA has cost our industry billions of dollars with nary an apology to be heard. They have always been right.

But they haven’t always been right. A sledgehammer was used at every turn when a more considered approach would have served us all better.

We had to start cleaning up diesel emissions. But we could have aimed first for radically superior fuel economy instead of increasingly difficult emissions cuts — with no time allowed for proper technology development — and ended up in the same place. With less pain along the way.

Now I’m wondering how we deal with a neutered EPA, or no EPA at all. I’d guess that SmartWay thinking will survive in many quarters, amongst both fleets and suppliers, but will the market demand emissions cuts? No, but it will continue to seek better and better fuel efficiency. Which is all we wanted in the first place.

Rolf Lockwood is vice president, editorial, at Newcom Business Media, which publishes Today’s Trucking. He writes for HDT each month on the making, maintaining and using of trucks. He can be reached at [email protected].


  1. 1. Cliff Downing [ July 25, 2017 @ 07:07PM ]

    Yeah, the OEM's were already getting engines more fuel efficient. There is incentive to do that from their consumers. The EGR thing has always been the poster child for stupidity. I really don't have nearly the problem with downstream emissions cleanup, but making an engine eat its own feces was lunacy on a grand scale. A well designed, extremely efficient engine, with reliable downstream cleanup would have been the better way to go from the beginning.

  2. 2. Paul Darwin [ August 18, 2017 @ 05:30AM ]

    Well said, Cliff Downing.

  3. 3. Ann [ August 18, 2017 @ 12:58PM ]

    I have great admiration for NACFE, but taking over SmartWay would require more than continuing to ground-truth fuel-saving technologies-- they'd also have to run the SmartWay database platform that allows carriers to show their fuel efficiency to the 3PLs & shippers who want to hire carriers that will make them look good. The shippers just want to see low CO2 numbers-- they don't care how the carriers get them.


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