Truckers? Give ’em the Green Light

About a year ago I used this space to argue against Canada’s ratification of the Kyoto protocol, an international initiative to reduce carbon dioxide and in effect fight global warming. I still believe Kyoto is based on pop science rather than the planet’s history of natural variability. It’s theory, this idea that CO2 has such a heavy impact on the earth’s climate. Many scientists around the world insist it doesn’t. The media has done a sensational job of making those of us who are concerned about air quality think Kyoto is the remedy we need.

That said, I have to applaud Natural Resources Canada’s $1-billion program that includes subsidies for anti-idling devices in trucks. Through NRCan’s FleetSmart office, the federal government will rebate up to 19% or $350 on a cab-heater or AC unit, and up to $1400 on auxiliary power generators as alternatives to idling.

The best part of it is that, unlike many aspects of Kyoto or more regulation of emissions, this program is voluntary-at least for now. And the rebates are real incentives for truckers to be part of the solution.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the trucking industry should be the only guinea pig for such programs. I’m waiting for similar “environmental awareness agreements”-voluntary or legislated-that apply to rail, marine, and air transport as well.

The feds can start by including rail and marine operations in a mandate to use ultra-low-sulphur diesel fuel by 2006 (the sulphur content must be reduced from 500 ppm to 15 ppm). While trucks will have to fill up with ultra-low sulphur fuel at about 2 cents more a litre, everyone else is getting a free pass.

Contrary to popular opinion, the trucking industry doesn’t have to be dragged kicking and screaming toward environmentalism. Plenty of carriers are showing initiative on their own.

Challenger Motor Freight and Bruce R. Smith are two. Both Ontario-based fleets have purchased five heavy-duty trucks equipped with Cummins Westport liquefied natural gas 450-hp, 15-litre ISX G engines.

Or take a look at what Bison Transport is doing in Winnipeg. Jon Sigurdson, manager of fuel, puts each new driver through a four-hour fuel management training course dealing with speed control, idling, sensible gear shifting, and proper techniques for certain grades of road.

Are these guys tree huggers? Of course not. There are obvious fuel economy benefits here, and I’m not naive enough to believe that cleaning up the air is the primary focus. But they show how saving both money and the environment can sometimes overlap.

The government should take note. If it does gets the itch to legislate something, maybe a fuel-management training course like Bison’s is worth looking at. It won’t cost much, and will give drivers an extra set of skills. Oh, yeah. It’ll be good for the environment, too.

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