Two federal agencies have proposed first-ever national standards for fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions for medium and heavy trucks. The complementary proposals, announced Monday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, will establish a new way to measure truck fuel efficiency and emissions.

Instead of miles per gallon, trucks will be measured in terms of gallons per ton-mile. And emissions will be measured in terms of grams of carbon dioxide per ton-mile. The agencies adopted this approach in order to account for the work the truck is doing, rather than just the fuel efficiency of the engine.

"This is a performance standard," said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. "In general, most of these (requirements) are going to be met through improvements to engines, tires, the aerodynamics of the truck and reduced idling."

The agencies estimate that the rule will save 500 million barrels of oil over the life of trucks sold between 2014, when the rule will take effect, and 2018. Almost 250 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions would be cut in the same period, the agencies said.

For carriers specifically, the agencies say that for more trucks the cost of meeting the standard will be recouped within one to two years. "For example, an operator of a semi truck could pay for the technology upgrades in under a year, and have net savings up to $74,000 over the truck's useful life," the agencies said in their analysis.

Trucks with lower annual mileage would take as long as four to five years to recoup the cost, the agencies said.

More Details

The proposals cover all medium and heavy on-highway trucks, from over-the-road tractors to vocational trucks. The agencies decided not to include trailers because they don't have enough experience working with trailer manufacturers and this is the first rule of its type. But trailers do affect fuel economy and emissions, so they may be the subject of a future proposal, the agencies said.

The proposal assigns tractors to one of nine categories, and sets an emissions and fuel consumption standard for each category.

For example, the tractor types are Class 7 Day Cab, Class 8 Day Cab and Class 8 Sleeper Cab. These groups are further divided by their roof height: low, mid-roof and high-roof. The 2017 model year fuel consumption standard for a high-roof Class 8 Sleeper would be 7 gallons per 1,000 ton-miles, while a low-roof sleeper would be expected to get 6.3 gallons per 1,000 ton-miles.

These standards are seen by the Obama administration as a way to address energy security and climate change. "At the same time, the proposed program would enhance American competitiveness and job creation, benefit consumers and businesses by reducing costs for transporting goods, and spur growth in the clean energy sector," the agencies said in their announcement.

There is more work to be done on the 673-page proposal. It is open for public comment until late December (go to, Dockets No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2010-0162 and No. NHTSA-2010-0079). The final rule must be posted by the end of next July, and it will begin to take effect in 2014.

Collaborative Effort

The proposal is the product of a collaborative effort between regulators, truck builders and trucking companies.

When President Obama last May signed a memo requiring EPA and NHTSA to cooperate on developing these standards, he described the program as "the perfect model of how industry and government ought to work together to come up with a rule that's best for the public and best for the private sector and best for our environment," said American Trucking Associations Chairman Tommy Hodges, who attended the signing.

ATA supports the approach of using fuel economy standards to reduce carbon emissions,
rather than raising fuel prices by government action or mandating alternative fuels.

"Diesel fuel remains the most viable option for powering the trucking industry," said ATA Vice President Rich Moskowitz in a statement. "ATA's carbon emission reduction policy acknowledges the need to look toward alternative technologies while ensuring that the industry can continue to efficiently move the consumer goods we rely on daily."

Another organization connected to trucking, the Heavy-Duty Fuel Efficiency Leadership Group, also applauded the proposed rule. This group, which includes Con-way, Cummins, Eaton, FedEx and Wabash, was organized by another organization, Securing America's Future Energy, led by General P.X. Kelley, the former Commandant of the Marine Corps.

"If we are going to be serious about ending America's dangerous dependence on oil, we need to look beyond light-duty vehicles," Kelley said in a statement. "Trucks represent 20 percent of the fuel we use in our transportation fleet, and yet before now, they have never been subjected to fuel economy standards. These new proposed rules represent an important step forward for our nation's economic and national security."

The Diesel Technology Forum, an organization committed to promoting clean diesel engines, said that engine builders are up to the challenge of the proposed standard.

"This proposal clearly envisions clean diesel power as the centerpiece of freight transportation in the clean energy economy of tomorrow," said DTF Executive Director Allen Schaeffer.