As three senators continue work on a bipartisan climate change bill, two trucking groups say future regulation of truck fuel economy should stay where it is, under the Department of Transportation, and not get shifted to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Last month, according to published reports, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John Kerry (D-MA), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) shared an eight-page outline of their draft legislation that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next four decades.

In a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the American Truck Dealers association and the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association Friday didn't actually mention the new bill, but instead voiced their strong opposition to an existing Senate bill they say would nullify fuel economy rules established by Congress under the Energy Independence and Security Act in 2007.

Michael Harrington, with the legislative department of the National Auto Dealer Association, ATD's parent organization, explained to that beyond the outline of the Kerry-Graham-Liberman bill released last month, "nobody really knows what's in it."

Letting EPA Set Truck Fuel Economy

The concern is that the new bill will include the same obscure provision regarding heavy-duty truck fuel economy provisions as another bill, S. 1733, the "Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act." If enacted, these provisions would strip the Department of Transportation of its ability to set fuel economy standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks and transfer that authority to the Environmental Protection Agency. The bill was reported out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on November 5, 2009, and a similar bill containing truck fuel economy provisions passed the House of Representatives on June 26, 2009.

"DOT has been regulating fuel economy for more than three decades," said Kyle Treadway, ATD chairman and the dealer-owner of Kenworth Sales Company in Salt Lake City. "EPA has been regulating fuel economy literally since last week. It makes no sense to throw away all of DOT's expertise at a time when the trucking industry can least afford it. If the legislation passed, the result could be unaffordable fuel economy standards for truck buyers."

In the groups' letter to LaHood, they write, "Specifically, S. 1733 establishes a truck fuel economy program administered by EPA under the Clean Air Act that would nullify the heavy-duty truck CAFE program Congress established in 2007 in section 102(a)(2) of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) [P.L. 110-140]. By establishing a new EPA program that 'shall supersede and satisfy any and all of the rulemaking and compliance requirements of section 32902(k) of title 49, United States Code,' DOT's truck fuel economy program, which Congress established less than three years ago on a bipartisan basis, would be rendered meaningless."

The groups urged DOT to oppose this "de facto repeal of the CAFÉ program for heavy-duty trucks." The EISA law instructing DOT to develop truck fuel standards said those standards must be economically practical, ATD and OOIDA stress. But the Clean Air Act does not require the EPA to consider things such as job loss, consumer choice and acceptability, or the health fo the U.S. truck industry. "With 1 in 15 people working in a trucking-related job, the Administration should carefully consider the wisdom of regulating fuel economy in a manner that allows employment impacts to be ignored," the letter says.

The industry does not know if the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill includes such a provision, but ATD and OOIDA hope to nip any such thing in the bud. "This provision is small enough that it could just get stuck in and no one would really notice it," Harrington explains.

NHTSA Progress

Currently, under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the DOT's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is working on fuel economy regulations for medium- and ehavy-duty trucks. That rulemaking is scheduled to begin this year. One step in that process was the recent publication of a study offering a conceptual approach to the issue by the National Academy of Sciences.

The study says considerable fuel efficiency gains are possible through a range of technologies and methods, and recommends that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration employ a fuel economy measurement that takes freight into account.

For more background, see "Truck Fuel Economy Regulation on the Horizon, 8/15/2009