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EPA rules target truck emissions, fuel efficiency

The Obama administration announced new rules Monday to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants by requiring greater fuel efficiency for big trucks, buses and other heavy-duty vehicles starting with 2014 models.

The regulations, the first of their kind, call for a 20% reduction in heavy-vehicle emissions by 2018, which would require boosting fuel efficiency to an average of 8 miles per gallon, compared with 6 mpg now, experts estimate.

Trucks and other heavy vehicles make up only 4% of the U.S. vehicle fleet, but given the distance they travel, the time they spend idling and their low fuel efficiency, they consume 20% of all vehicle fuel, said Don Anair, a senior analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists’ clean vehicles program.

The standards, issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department, are the latest in a series of measures designed to chip away at greenhouse gas emissions at a time when a sharply divided Congress has been in a stalemate over climate change legislation.

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“These new standards are another step in our work to develop a new generation of clean, fuel-efficient American vehicles that will improve our environment and strengthen our economy,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said in a telephone news conference.

“In addition to cutting greenhouse gas pollution, greater fuel economy will shrink fuel costs for small businesses that depend on pickups and heavy-duty vehicles, shipping companies and cities and towns with fleets of these vehicles,” she said.

Jackson said that manufacturers could achieve the required cuts in emissions by using what she called “off-the-shelf” technology such as improvements to engines, tires, aerodynamics and idling efficiency.

Environmentalists welcomed the decision, and truck manufacturers said they had consulted with the federal agencies in advance to make the changes work.

But truck makers and dealers expressed concern that higher prices might drive some truckers and companies out of the market. The changes could add about $5,900 to the price of a new tractor-trailer that typically costs about $100,000, a senior Transportation Department official said during the news conference.

“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 EPA and Transportation Department said.

That claim could not be independently verified.

Fuel efficiency standards stagnated for years under Republican and Democratic administrations alike. But in two sets of rules issued this year, the EPA called for cars and light trucks to boost fuel efficiency into the range of 47 to 62 mpg by 2025. The EPA is expected to issue rules in early 2011 that would seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources like power plants.

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The new regulations would save the trucking industry about 500 million barrels of oil over the life of vehicles made between 2014 and 2018, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 250 million metric tons, according to government estimates.

Regulators and environmentalists in California approved of the new rules. More than 40% of containerized cargo arriving in the U.S. moves through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The ports, with their variety of diesel-powered transport and equipment, are among the biggest sources of pollution in the Los Angeles area, and trucks contribute greatly to the toxic mix.

California regulators have tightened clean air requirements for the ports, and a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board said the new federal rules complemented state efforts.

nbanerjee@tribune.com

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