WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Monday proposed the first fuel-efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction standards for trucks and buses and said the new program would reduce the nation's use of oil, cut emissions of heat-trapping gases and save money.
The new standards will apply to semi trucks, heavy-duty pickups and vans, and vehicles such as school buses and fire engines. The standards phase in for model years 2014 to 2018.
The new standards are what Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson called "one step" in the administration's efforts to decrease oil use and cut the nation's share of the carbon pollution that remains in the atmosphere. The step was planned to follow an earlier program that provides national standards for cars and light-duty trucks.
Obama called for the development of the standards for trucks and buses in May. Since then, a broad bill to reduce carbon pollution and spur alternative energy ground to a halt in the Senate. Obama recently said that reducing dependence on fossil fuels may have to be done in "chunks," instead of with a long and complex bill.
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Jackson said the truck standards could be considered one of those chunks — something that "constantly moves us toward measured reductions in greenhouse gases and does so in a very cost-effective way."
The improvements that would allow for fuel savings would use technologies that are commercially available. Jackson said the improvements would be made to engines, tires and aerodynamic design. The standards also involve programs to reduce truck idling and leakage from air conditioning systems.
Most vehicles would have a payback of one to two years, but others that travel fewer miles would have a payback period of up to five years, the EPA and the Department of Transportation said in a news release.
The news release said that a semi operator would have a payback of less than a year and save as much as $74,000 in fuel costs over the truck's life. The standards are expected to make the medium- and heavy-duty vehicles 7 to 20 percent more fuel efficient.
Jackson said that much of the saved money would stay in the U.S. economy instead of going to pay for oil bought overseas. In addition, air pollution would be reduced everywhere, she said.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called it "win-win-win."
"It will reduce our reliance on oil, strengthen our energy security and mitigate climate change," he said.
LaHood said lower fuel costs would be good for consumers and businesses and that the new standards would add jobs in the clean-energy sector.
The officials said the new standards had strong support from the trucking industry.
The American Trucking Association has vocally supported fuel economy standards and recently formalized that position in a written policy, said spokesman Brandon Borgna. The ATA said in a statement last week that it preferred emissions standards as a way to control carbon emissions rather than government efforts to increase fuel prices or require alternative fuels.
For semis, the standards apply only to the tractor part of the tractor-trailer rig.
Jackson said the standards were developed as a result of work with industry. They could still be revised after the agencies review comments they'll receive during an upcoming 60-day period.
Efforts in the Senate to take away the EPA's authority over greenhouse gases would affect the standards for clean cars and trucks, Jackson said. The result could be a return to efforts by California and other states to set stricter standards, something the industry wants to avoid.
Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has proposed a measure that would block the EPA from moving forward with greenhouse gas reduction programs. The measure could come to a vote after the Senate returns after the Nov. 2 election.