NHTSA to prepare medium-, heavy-duty fuel-efficiency EIS

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Truck Tailpipes

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration today, June 14, announced plans to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement to analyze the potential environmental impacts of the agency’s new fuel efficiency improvement program for commercial medium- and heavy-duty on-highway vehicles and work trucks. The EIS will consider the potential environmental impacts of new standards starting with model year 2016 MD/HD vehicles and voluntary compliance standards for MY 2014-2015 MD/HD vehicles that NHTSA will be proposing pursuant to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

Today’s notice in the Federal Register initiates the National Environmental Policy Act scoping process by inviting comments from federal, state and local agencies, Indian tribes and the public to help identify the environmental issues and reasonable alternatives to be examined in the EIS. The scoping process will culminate in the preparation and issuance of a draft EIS, which will be made available for public comment. Scoping comments should be received on or before July 14, 2010. To participate, go to www.regulations.gov; the docket number is NHTSA-2010-0079.

President Obama on May 21 signed a presidential memorandum directing NHTSA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to jointly issue the nation’s first fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards on new medium- and heavy-duty trucks, beginning with MY 2014. The president directed that EPA and NHTSA try to issue a final rule by July 30, 2011. In the memorandum, Obama directed EPA and NHTSA to consider strategies designed to increase use of existing technologies to reduce emissions and fossil fuel consumption. “Preliminary estimates indicate that large tractor trailers, representing half of all greenhouse gas emissions from this sector, can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 20 percent and increase their fuel efficiency by as much as 25 percent with the use of existing technologies.”

The standards should take into account “the market structure of the trucking industry and the unique demands of heavy-duty vehicle applications,” the memorandum states. They also should seek harmonization with applicable state standards, consider the findings and recommendations in a National Academy of Sciences report “and enhance job creation in the United States,” it adds.

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In 2007, Congress directed DOT to issue MD/HD fuel economy standards following the National Academy of Sciences study. The National Research Council, the parent organization of NAS, issued that report on March 31. Under the 2007 law, the standards were to come by the middle of this decade, which the presidential memorandum would accomplish. Obama directed EPA and NHTSA to “seek input from all stakeholders, while recognizing the continued leadership role of California and other States.”

The announcement comes exactly one year after the Obama administration announced an agreement to increase fuel efficiency for cars and light trucks. In his comments, Obama said that medium- and heavy-duty vehicles account for about one-fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions. As with the automobile standards announced earlier, the Obama administration has expanded the scope of the regulations to include not only fuel efficiency but greenhouse gas emissions, which is why EPA and NHTSA issued the new car and light-truck standards jointly earlier this year. While fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions are linked closely, there are automotive functions – such as gases used in air
conditioning – that affect greenhouse gases without necessarily affecting fuel economy.