The trucking industry has undoubtedly been hit hard by the recession. First, high fuel prices gobbled up their profits in the highly-competitive field when diesel prices surged to $4 a gallon. Then as the recession set in, people bought less and thus there was less cargo to go around. That means less work. Now, just as the economy seems ready to turn a corner, truckers have a new challenge to overcome; the Environmental Protection Agency.
Two truck organizations, the American Truck Dealers Association and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association penned a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood asking his agency to regulate the trucking industry, not the EPA. But why?
It all comes down to economics. Several greenhouse gas emissions capping bills currently sitting in Congress would transfer regulation of the medium-to-large truck industry from the DOT to the EPA. The problem, as truckers see it, is that the EPA would have to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from “work trucks” between 8,500 and 10,000 pounds without taking into account the effect on the economy. As it is, large trucks have very lax emissions standards, and no fuel efficiency standards whatsoever. But consider that a fully loaded truck gets about 5 mpg, hauling tens of thousands of pounds of cargo, and you have to step back and wonder what kind of solutions are possible at this juncture. Whatever the solution though, new big rigs are going to cost more money by 2016, when the regulations are due.
Electric work trucks are decades away. Hybrids might be closer, but they would have to be exceptionally tough hybrids. I think a hybrid truck that relied on diesel engines on the highway and with a trailer specially designed to carry a few extra batteries for quiet, clean city driving might one day be possible. Yet there are even simpler solutions to lessening how much gas big rigs use, like eliminating the need for trucks to idle during rest stops. This alone wastes millions of gallons of fuel while getting zero mpg.
Ultimately though I think the trucking industry is going to go through an even steeper decline in coming year, because we can’t rely on trucks to do our long haul shipping if we really want to clean up our emissions. Trains make a lot more sense for cross-country cargo hauling, though many truckers would likely resent having just the last few miles to make a living. But long haul trucking won’t disappear overnight either, and if we can make trucking cleaner and more efficient everybody will benefit, including the truckers. Even higher upfront costs would save money in the long run if the trucks improve their efficiency by 2-3 mpg. Many of these vehicles are designed to last 500,000 miles or more. Even that modest improvement in fuel economy could save thousands of dollars during the lifetime of a truck.
I hope LaHood can figure out a way to protect the livelihood of these truckers while making a meaningful difference in truck efficiency and emissions standards. Glad I don’t have his job.
Source: The Detroit News | Image: International Trucks