Gas Attacks: The challenges of environmental mandates

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Ear worms are funny things. You know them. They’re the songs that invade your thoughts. The one ringing through my head right now is crooned by none other than Kermit the Frog. Yep. The Muppet. The one who taught us, “It’s not easy being green, having to spend each day the color of the leaves.”

If you want to know how tough it is to be green, look no further than the environmental rules and regulations affecting today’s trucking industry.

The pain begins at the pumps. Fuel prices increase as jurisdictions adopt carbon taxes, which are effectively financial penalties based on the amount of fuel you burn. Quebec and B.C. were the first to introduce those. Then there’s the matter of regulated equipment changes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has already unveiled the latest emission standards that will apply to Model Year 2021-27 medium-duty and heavy-duty vehicles. Trailers will be affected as early as 2018.

These recent targets for manufacturers represent a significant shift in the fight against Greenhouse Gases. The only way to meet them is to burn less fuel. That’s the good news. The Canadian Trucking Alliance also suggests these targets will slash 100 million metric tonnes of Greenhouse Gases on this side of the border alone. Who could possibly be against cleaner air?

The challenge is that these U.S.-developed standards rely on enhancements like lightweighting, and are designed with 80,000-pound Gross Vehicle Weights in mind. It’s why industry associations are lobbying hard to ensure Natural Resources Canada considers the realities of running in Canada before rubber-stamping the EPA’s targets, like it has done in the past.

Broken or stranded equipment, after all, won’t meet anybody’s goals.

Fleets and owner-operators pay a steep price when greener equipment is rushed to market too quickly. When Exhaust Gas Recirculation systems were first introduced, under-hood temperatures soared, coolers cracked, valves failed, and pitot tubes plugged. Then came the Diesel Particulate Filters. Delta pressure sensors cracked, and filters plugged after as little as 325,000 kilometers of service. Drifting NOx sensor? Drivers found themselves limping home when engines were de-rated because of faulty engine codes.

Some of the fleets that avoided these issues – and the added cost of emission-cleaning equipment — did so by turning to glider kits or extending equipment replacement cycles. The use of new trucks with remanufactured powertrains delayed the real-world rollout of any air-cleaning components.

But while Canada’s trucking industry needs to ensure emerging rules and pricing strategies consider operating realities, today’s political environment also presents a great opportunity to promote environmentally friendly changes that the industry has been chasing for years.

If jurisdictions are serious about cutting Greenhouse Gases, for example, they can lift the weight penalties for wide base single tires, which will soon be tested in an Alberta pilot project. Those designs have been shown to cut the GHGs by 8.5 tonnes per truck per year.

Money makes a difference, too. Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan, unveiled as this edition went to press, will include up to $170 million in incentives for things like electric and natural gas commercial vehicles, aerodynamic devices, anti-idling tools, and electrified reefers. Another $75-$100 million will help build a province-wide natural gas fueling network.

Potential gains don’t end there. The broader use of Long Combination Vehicles would enhance productivity and fuel economy alike. Changes to a rule that requires adjacent axles to be loaded within 1,000 kilograms of each other could open the door to recently unveiled 6×2 liftable forward axle systems that promise to boost fuel economy by 3-5%. Other changes to weights and dimensions could support the adoption of everything from aerodynamic devices to the extra batteries needed to support idle-saving hotel loads.

All it would take is regulators who are ready to consider every option to improve the air around us.

Maybe it all proves Kermit was right. It’s not easy being green. How sage he was.

– This editorial originally appeared in the July 2016 edition of Today’s Trucking.


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John G. Smith is Newcom Media's vice-president - editorial, and the editorial director of its trucking publications -- including Today's Trucking,, and Transport Routier. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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