Passing Zone

EPA Aims to Toss Away SmartWay

Commentary by David Cullen, Executive Editor

April 4, 2017

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Talk about throwing the proverbial baby out with the equally proverbial, albeit dirtier, bath water.

The slash-and-burn budget proposal being teed up for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to bring the Environmental Protection Agency to heel calls for ditching a program that has been successfully leveraged by many truck fleets to save fuel for years — SmartWay.

Yes, SmartWay is on the block. Yes, that voluntary government-industry partnership aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of trucking operations and at accelerating the "availability, adoption and market penetration of fuel-saving technologies and operational practices” for truck fleets. ­Yes, the-- and here I repeat a key word: "voluntary"-- program that EPA itself has credited with cutting fuel costs by nearly $25 billion since it was launched — which was only in 2004.

Image: U.S. EPA
Image: U.S. EPA
SmartWay is just one of many programs, large and small, marked for elimination in a “spending plan” drawn up by the agency that “offers the most detailed vision to date of how the 31% budget cut to the EPA ordered up by President Trump’s Office of Management and Budget would diminish the agency,” as The Washington Post put it in a March 31 story that broke the news of the budget draft.

The plan for “base budget adjustments” is attached to an internal memo penned by EPA Acting Chief Financial Officer David Bloom that is directed to most of the agency’s top officials, including the acting general counsel and the acting assistant administrators.

SmartWay is listed in the document as one of 14 “voluntary partnership programs” that EPA wants to do away with simply because the agency claims doing so would help “the effort to better target and prioritize activities related to [EPA’s] core environmental statutory requirements.”

In other words, SmartWay is not threatened with being axed because it did not do what it was supposed to do — help truck fleets save money by burning less fuel (and, yes, producing fewer greenhouse gas emissions at the same time), which it has been magnificently successful at doing.

To make sure I'm not looking at SmartWay through overly rosy glasses, I asked Mike Roeth, executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency, for his take on the voluntary program’s impact.

“I do think SmartWay provides a good service to the industry as a verification effort for technologies, primarily tires and aerodynamics,” Roeth told me.  “It is a voluntary arm of the EPA that has been very engaged with the industry.”

He did allow that because SmartWay verifies fuel economy benefits, “sometimes that is confused with total cost of ownership of technologies.  Fleets, and here is where NACFE comes in, must use the fuel-efficiency gains and look at up-front cost, other benefits and challenges as well as reselling effects to understand the total payback.” Roeth added that SmartWay verification is “also woven into the California Truck and Bus rule and somewhat into the EPA and NHTSA GHG rules.”

Roeth’s take on the program just confirms my view that SmartWay is under the gun simply because its reason for being just doesn’t fit into the narrow confines of what President Trump’s political appointee EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt sees as the limited mission of EPA: Ensuring only that statutory requirements regarding the environment are met.

Of course, environmental activists are already waging war against EPA over its proposed budget. The essence of their argument is how do you separate efforts to protect the environment — the air we breathe and the water we drink, above all — and efforts to stave off climate change?

That’s a fair argument. And it sets up a bitter battle for when Trump’s budget finally comes up for consideration by Congress.

What remains to be seen for trucking is whether the industry — fleets and suppliers alike — will band together to lobby Administrator Pruitt to not toss the voluntary SmartWay program away along with those programs his agency regards as nothing more than a drag on American business.

Failing that, trucking's lobbying to save SmartWay will have to move on up to Capitol Hill — where a president's proposed budget more often than not meet its own ax.


  1. 1. Russ [ April 05, 2017 @ 04:22AM ]

    This is great news, now maybe we can start getting trucks that the drivers actually want to drive. It may be a while but there's hope.

  2. 2. Kirk [ April 05, 2017 @ 06:32AM ]

    Smartway only benefited the large fleets. Sending all the high cost of EPA crap to the smaller guys. Owner Operators were too small to qualify and we make up the majority.

  3. 3. Ben [ April 05, 2017 @ 07:00AM ]

    One issue not addressed is that while emissions standards became more stringent between 2004 and 2010-11 fuel economy for most fleets went down. So, while cleaner air was being let back in to the environment from fleets (those that purchased the new equipment), more oil was needed, brought from non regulated very polluting oil rigs, of which a large portion ends up being transported by trains (poor emissions) and trucks. That net effect is rarely discussed and of course not measured by the EPA.
    I contend a large portion of fuel economy improvement has been achieved by the entrepreneurs and leaders of our industry. High fuel costs have forced us to operate smarter and we have sought out solutions and vendors that enable us to do so. We constantly test equipment ideas, formations and technologies that on one hand take us from good to great and on the other do so to survive, lead and profit.

  4. 4. Ty [ April 05, 2017 @ 07:29AM ]

    With truck and trailer manufactures already developing fuel saving systems and large fleets wanting to have the most fuel efficient engines and equipment possible, why do we really need a government agency to tell us, or verify what is already being done?

    The SmartWay program has encouraged companies to re-think operations and in doing so they can reduce costs and the footprint they were making in the environment.

  5. 5. ChromeGetsYouHome [ April 05, 2017 @ 08:02AM ]

    I think SmartWay is a good program and has led to some great advances but the overall results of environmental regulations, particularly related to emissions' systems, have sucked so much wealth out of this industry. It would be nice to have the benefits of better aerodynamics, lower rolling resistance, bunk heaters with batter-powered APUs, etc. but without the aftertreatment systems. For new trucks, fleets report that expenses related to aftertreatment systems are now the #2 maintenance-related cost after tires. On the used truck market, I'd feel comfortable saying aftertreatment system costs are the #1 maintenance cost.

  6. 6. Alan [ April 05, 2017 @ 10:14AM ]

    As a large fleet owner, it is my opinion Smartway did its job, and now, at a huge price to our industry, and needs to be done away with, along with other bloated bureaucracies we no longer need, nor can afford. Having said that, this appeared more of an opinion piece by Mr. Cullen from a liberal point of view - more sour grapes on the election of Trump. I read nothing about the positive effects of the elimination of SW. I would think HDT goal is to benefit what is good for the trucking industry and not to espouse political agendas, or support bloated bureaucracies. The EPA has not been the friend of the trucking industry and has run though us like a bull through a china shop.

  7. 7. JOhn [ April 05, 2017 @ 10:34AM ]

    I am so happy that EPA can spout that they saved us 25 billion. Nope. Smartway saved nothing. They did help us calculate specifics in our fleet. If you didnt know that first you were probably already broke. It is time for this page to close and move on.

  8. 8. SLM [ April 05, 2017 @ 11:41AM ]

    Saying goodbye to SmartWay will be almost as difficult as saying goodbye to my mother in law after a week long visit. I also agree with Alan, I've not seen such a liberal slant from HDT before like this article. I guess liberalism is infiltrating all media including even trucking.

  9. 9. Joe Interlandi [ April 05, 2017 @ 01:58PM ]

    EPA figures on savings from Smartway are manufactured by their own fake news creators. They never subtract the cost of compliance in their wishful savings analysis. If it's truly a beneficial program then there is absolutely no reason for the trucking industry to discontinue it, or for them not to take it up on their own. Truckers are smart enough to find programs and enact policies that result in cost savings and don't need a government mandate telling them to do so. The EPA has become a strong arm of an out of control federal bureaucracy that threatens to crush capitalism and entrepreneurship into antiquity.
    EPA policies concerning the trucking industry are policies that are the antithesis of good business sense. They are put into place by agenda driven elitists who don't know the difference between a truck and a wheelbarrow.

  10. 10. Sam [ April 05, 2017 @ 06:29PM ]

    Mainly for Russ: does the next generation of drivers want to drive the trucks today's 55-year-olds remember fondly? These kids were brought up on comfort and computers, so are probably not too attracted to loud, vibrating, smelly rigs. Industry deserves a lot of credit for developing and popularizing truck & trailer features that save money AND emissions, but if we rely only on industry to watch our backs, before long we may be out of a profession (here come driverless trucks).

  11. 11. kelly smith [ April 05, 2017 @ 08:19PM ]

    wow! this writer needs to be axed. i want to read articles that help truckers. you sir are not supposed to be on the political bandwagon. sour grapes about our president makes you a bad advocate for truckers. get off it or get a new job!

  12. 12. Gerald [ April 06, 2017 @ 06:10AM ]

    Very good points in all the comments that are here. There is still hope for America if we can get the government out of our way.

  13. 13. Mark [ April 06, 2017 @ 06:27AM ]

    SmartWay was due to become pretty much obsolete in 2018 anyhow. With the implementation of the Green House Gas II regulation(s), all of the SmartWay equipment is going to be required on the trailers after January 1st, 2018.

  14. 14. BILL DOLLOFF [ April 11, 2017 @ 01:31PM ]


  15. 15. Richard L.Davis [ April 11, 2017 @ 03:17PM ]

    I would bet if the stupid so-called president Trump administration did away with this most carriers would still use it. Because i think it does save fuel. This is just stupid, like the so-called president, if he wants to help the little guy { which he don't } he would do away with the ELD's. Trump is an idiot.


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Author Bio

David Cullen

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Executive Editor

Executive Editor David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.


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