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Notice of proposed GHG standard for trucks is first of three major policy blockbusters

The Obama administration in the US recently dropped the first of three very big shoes in the transportation policy arena, when it introduced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would, for the ...




The Obama administration in the US recently dropped the first of three very big shoes in the transportation policy arena, when it introduced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would, for the first time, regulate national fuel economy/greenhouse gas (GHG) standards for heavy trucks -or at least for new engines and tractors. The new standards are to come into force in 2014 and the EPA is looking for a 20% fuel economy improvement by 2018.

The other two “shoes” are the much-anticipated changes to the US hours-of-service regulations and a rule on electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) -both of which could be issued any time before the end of the year. Perhaps by the time you read this column, one or both will have been introduced. Each one on its own is a significant measure. In combination these three rulemakings could substantially impact and perhaps even alter some of the fundamental ways that truckers in North America operate and do business.

The NPRM on a national fuel economy standard is about 700 pages and is therefore too large to even begin to summarize in the space I have in this column. The NPRM touches on a whole lot of topics including whether the impact of trailers on a tractor-semi-trailer combination’s fuel economy should be regulated. It also extols the benefits of speed limiter activation and asks for input as to whether hard coding of speed limiter activation on new trucks should be an option for compliance with the regulation.

However, the proposed rule will not, it appears, require or incentivize heavy truck buyers to alter their buying intentions -at least for now. For example, there appears to be no consideration to providing incentives to consumers to buy tractors that are GHG-friendly. The credits (which can be bought, sold and traded) for improving fuel economy and the penalties of not doing so, rest solely with the truck OEMs. It may be that manufacturers will choose (or perhaps over time be required) to only sell more fuel-efficient vehicles, but the NPRM does not explicitly compel the consumer to change.

The rules will apply only to new power units. It is not clear what, if anything, might eventually be done to accelerate the phase-out of the existing, so-called “legacy fleets.” (The NPRM deals only with new trucks). And as stated previously, trailers are not currently part of the plan -at least for now. However, it is CTA’s position that if governments (keep in mind Environment Canada has announced that it is following the EPA’s lead) truly wish to accelerate the penetration of more fuel-efficient devices and technologies that are proven to reduce GHG emissions and therefore accelerate the environmental impact, then they should in addition to these proposed rules be introducing complementary measures to incentivize voluntary investment in retrofit solutions for existing tractors and trailers. Dialogue around that is currently underway in Canada. A meaningful, broad-based strategy would also include some sort of credit for carriers who put their drivers through some sort of training for fuel-efficient driving.

No-one expects that the new US hours-of-service rules will be more generous and flexible than the existing rules. In fact, most are expecting just the opposite with possible rollbacks in driving time and the reset provisions. No indications yet in terms of how the Canadian and federal provincial governments might respond. Heck, there are a bunch of provinces that have not even adopted the 2007 changes to the Canadian federal standard.

On EOBRs, more and more the indications are that the new US proposals will include at the very least a broader mandate than that proposed by the previous administration or even the initial plans of the current administration. In Canada, the Council of Deputy Ministers Responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety has established a government working group to develop this country’s approach to EOBRs.

The council recently directed the working group to develop the technical standards for an EOBR regulation in Canada. It is expected the technical standards will closely follow those in the US so that EOBR equipment can function in both countries. Obviously that makes sense. And, while this effort is underway, the groundwork for other aspects of the Canadian EOBR standard will need to be laid, such as incentives for a reduction in record-keeping requirements and the development of a realistic enforcement policy. These other requirements and policies do not necessarily have to (nor should they) be identical to what the US comes up with. It would be ideal if the entire rule was completely harmonized but both countries should retain the right and the flexibility to determine their own parameters. (The retention of the sleeper berth provisions of the hours-of-service rule in Canada is a good example of why this is important). Nevertheless, governments on both sides of the border have been and will no doubt continue to be in close contact with each other.

The world is changing and society’s expectations for all industries including trucking are also changing and becoming more demanding. The level of oversight of the industry will increase as technology makes it easier to monitor behaviour and compliance. The industry cannot fight this new direction. It needs to embrace it and work to make sure the programs and rules that will be introduced work for the industry or at least make sense and are effective and efficient.

-David Bradley is president of the Ontario Trucking Association and chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.


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