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Setting national fuel economy standards for trucks requires unique understanding

Recently, Canada's Minister of Environment, the Honourable James Prentice, indicated through the media that the government of Canada, perhaps in conjunction, or at least consistent, with the federal government of the US, will be unveiling draft...




Recently, Canada’s Minister of Environment, the Honourable James Prentice, indicated through the media that the government of Canada, perhaps in conjunction, or at least consistent, with the federal government of the US, will be unveiling draft regulations to introduce new fuel economy standards for heavy commercial vehicles.

The announcement, we are led to believe, could even come by the time you read this article or shortly thereafter.

The Canadian trucking industry has always been the leader in North America in terms of fuel efficiency.

For a number of years now, CTA has been promoting the enviroTruck initiative for reducing air contaminants and greenhouse gases (GHG) from trucks. We foresaw the day when fuel economy standards would become a reality and wished to be proactive on that front.

It is hard to respond to something you have not seen -and to date there has been virtually no consultation on this -but CTA’s knee-jerk response is not to oppose measures that can assist the industry in improving its fuel efficiency.

Indeed, a regulation that is consistent with the equipment and technologies promoted by CTA’s enviroTruck initiative and which is accompanied by appropriate financial incentives, regulatory flexibility, etc., could be a positive thing. But, there is still a lot of water that needs to go under that bridge before we can give the thumbs up or the thumbs down to whatever the minister is thinking about doing.

If, for example, anyone thinks you can basically follow the same thought processes for establishing a fuel economy standard for trucks as for cars, they would be sadly mistaken. The trucking industry is not a homogeneous entity.

Trucks are used as the conveyance to ship all types of commodities and products, from the lightest of weights (ie., potato chips) to the heaviest (ie., industrial machinery) and any number of products requiring specialized tractor and trailer equipment. A one-size-fits-all fuel efficiency regulation will not work.

This was highlighted in a recent paper from the National Academies (NA) entitled: Technologies and Approaches to Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium-and Heavy-Duty Vehicles.

Secondly, heavy truck weights and dimensions standards in Canada fall principally under provincial jurisdiction, which complicates the setting of national standards.

The current vehicle standards were developed in the early 1980s and while they have served the country well (indeed they have allowed for more fuel-efficient goods movement in Canada versus the US in many respects), they were not developed with environmental concerns in mind. Consequently, in many instances they now represent a barrier to adopting some of the technologies that will be required to comply with new fuel efficiency standards.

Transport Canada’s manufacturing standards have also recently been identified as being similarly problematic (ie., impeding the use of rear trailer aerodynamic devices commonly referred to as boat tails).

Third, CTA is extremely concerned that the above issues are not well understood and if the thought is to simply adopt Made-in-USA standards, the Canadian trucking industry could be placed at a competitive disadvantage compared to US carriers and ultimately, shippers who rely upon trucks for getting their goods to market, or for receiving much-needed inputs into their business processes, could be negatively impacted.

The prevailing truck weights and dimensions standards in the US and Canada are quite different.

In general, the Canadian provinces have adopted a more liberalized weights and dimensions regime than what exists under federal and state law in the United States.

It is conceivable that the US trucking industry could meet new fuel economy targets by “coming up” towards the Canadian standards already in existence.

This would place an added burden on the Canadian industry to adopt additional measures to achieve similar order of magnitude fuel efficiency gains.

While enviroTruck has many parallels with the US Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay Transport initiative and with the recently introduced California Air Resources Board regulations aimed at improving truck fuel efficiency, it also takes account of the uniqueness of the equipment used in the Canadian heavy truck fleet.

Again, in principle, CTA does not oppose the setting of fuel efficiency standards for heavy trucks in principle. However, we need to ensure that it is done properly and in a way that is fair to Canadian motor carriers.

We have already seen policies created in the absence of a basic understanding of the complexity of the trucking industry and the uniqueness of the Canadian industry in particular.

We can’t afford to see it happen in the setting of fuel economy standards.

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


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