Ottawa needs to come clean on emissions

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Recently, the Railway Association of Canada (RAC) issued a statement suggesting federal Environment Minister, David Anderson, “has sought and will receive, rail’s support to shift more passenger and freight traffic from road to rail.”

According to RAC, “the minister recognizes that rail has a significant environmental advantage over other surface transportation modes.”

Perhaps RAC is over-stepping its authority to speak for the minister on these issues. It would not be the first time. However, when one looks at the differences in the way the federal government is approaching the issue of reducing emissions from trucks versus rail, one has to wonder.

If RAC is indeed reflecting the views of the federal government on this issue, then the ministers of the environment and transport should come clean. If this is an indication of government policy, then the views expressed do many things Canadians need to know:

they ignore the realities of the freight transportation marketplace and the environmental performance of the various modes;

they ignore the work of the Transportation Table on Climate Change;

they put the interests of railway shareholders ahead of environmental concerns;

they are a slap in the face to the freight transport mode that is doing more to reduce emissions (and that has supported recent regulatory announcements on both engines and fuels) than any of the others;

they place the trucking industry in an untenable position by mandating new engine emission standards that will result in lower fuel economy in order to reduce NOx and PM, while at the same time telling the industry it must enhance its fuel efficiency in order to reduce GHG;

they fail to account for the health impacts of allowing rail to use unregulated engines and fuels;

and, they drive a competitive wedge between the trucking industry (the leading freight transportation mode in the country; the largest employer of males; and the modal choice for 70 per cent of Canada’s trade by value with the U.S.) and the other freight modes.

Indeed, one might say the way the federal government is pursuing the Kyoto objectives has hijacked the effort to reduce the most common emissions known to cause health problems.

If, as they have made abundantly clear, the railways want more of the truckers’ freight, then they need to do one thing – improve their service.

The sole reason for the predominance of trucking comes down to the fact our industry consistently provides better service than the railways.

Hidden agenda

Rail is already cheaper than truck for most shipments. Still, most shippers prefer to ship their goods by truck because they know they will get to market on time, safely and undamaged.

In my opinion, the rail strategy has little to do with them winning freight back from trucking, or environmental enhancement. That is just a smokescreen. More likely their strategy is to have public policy push up the costs of truck transportation, which will eventually lead to an increase in truck rates so the railways can then raise their rates (without the commensurate increase in cost) in order to enhance profitability. However, the reality is all this will accomplish is higher costs to Canadian manufacturers, retailers and farmers – or simply the replacement of Canadian motor carriers with U.S. motor carriers.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) stood firmly behind regulations recently announced to harmonize Canadian truck emission standards with those of the U.S.

At the same time emissions from Canadian railway locomotive fuels and engines are not regulated and there seems to be no intention on the government’s part to rectify this glaring omission.

Instead, the government’s inaction continues to allow the rail sector to use dirty diesel and to employ new engines that may increase that sector’s fuel efficiency, but – according to the government’s own research – are contributing to increased emissions.

Double standards

The railways are allowed to haul heavier loads, at higher speeds, with more powerful engines – without having to worry one bit about the health-impairing emissions of NOx and particulate matter.

This is not fair. Nor is it good environmental policy.

One of the major costs that will be visited upon the trucking industry from the new emission standards will be a resultant loss of fuel efficiency. This is a confirmed fact. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates a 2.5 to four per cent fuel consumption penalty.

This fact appears to be receiving no consideration in the development of the government’s approach to greenhouse gases (GHGs).

The federal government continues to push the envelope on GHGs. But public policy is itself a significant barrier to the achievement of GHG reductions.

The cost of the new regulations will ultimately flow through the marketplace and inflate Canadian freight transportation costs, thereby impacting the competitiveness of Canadian exports.

Despite our best efforts to sensitize anyone who would care to listen to the realities of the freight market (and to the fundamental problem of simultaneously achieving large reductions in GHG and smog), the familiar yet flawed approach of suggesting a modal shift just won’t die.

The government needs to consider the facts. The report of the Transportation Table placed freight modal shift on its “unlikely” list of measures to reduce GHGs, stating that “opportunities to shift freight from truck to rail or marine in the five corridors studied generated small GHG reductions at considerable cost.”

A study prepared for Environment Canada entitled Trucks and Air Emissions (March 2001) had this to say:

“While rail has been usually found to be the most energy efficient or lowest emitter on single long distance links, this type of route represents a small portion of the total transport flow and it ignores the distribution issues at the rail end points.”

The Centre for Sustainable Transportation (another entity that has received federal funding) was even more succinct in its April 2001 edition of the Sustainable Transportation Monitor when it noted that comparing rail and truck freight energy efficiency was like “comparing apples and oranges.”

The Centre went on to note that “rail’s advantage in energy efficiency may be offset by trucks’ more sophisticated emissions controls and higher quality fuel.”

The trucking industry has a good news story to tell on the environment.

We all need to do a better job in communicating it. But, we also need our governments to ensure that all modes – including the railways – meet similar standards when it comes to those emissions most harmful to human health.

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


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