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.

Author

David Cullen
David Cullen

David Cullen

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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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.

View Bio
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