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Canada needs to truck ahead with strong regulations for heavy-duty vehicles

Published Aug. 26, 2011 by Cherise Burda

Cherise Burda

Recently we learned that Canada plans to follow the Obama administration's lead in requiring manufacturers and importers to meet new fuel-efficiency standards to lower greenhouse gas emissions for large trucks and buses.

The proposed rules for the commercial truck industry will apply to large vehicles such as 18-wheelers, combination tractors, garbage trucks and delivery vans. The rules will require manufacturers to begin offering more fuel-efficient vehicles as early as 2014, and ramp up to bigger emissions reductions by 2018.

Given the amount of trans-boundary shipping in North America, having both Canada and the U.S. in sync with trucking regulations is an important move. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that the regulations will reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 76 million tons annually by 2030, and will translate into other benefits as well:

  • For the trucking industry: Savings of up to $73,000 over the life of the vehicle.
  • For human health: Improved air quality through the reduction of particulate matter and ozone.
  • In the U.S.: projected savings of 530 million barrels of oil, reducing carbon pollution emissions by about 270 million metric tons.

Based on the size of the fleet in Canada, this translates to a savings of about 26 million barrels of oil and 13 million metric tonnes of carbon pollution emissions, along with a reduction of about 4 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually by 2030 in Canada.

However, this works out to only about a one per cent reduction in Canada's projected national greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.  And this doesn't account for any loopholes or "flexibilities" that may weaken the impact of the regulations in either country.

The test we need to apply to all new federal policies is not simply to ask whether they align with what the U.S. does, but whether they make an adequate contribution to hitting Canada's 2020 target.The proposed regulations only cover the tractor section of 18-wheerlers, not the standards for the trailers, which are needed to improve whole-vehicle aerodynamics. Yet a U.S. freight study by the Rocky Mountain Institute shows that current feasible technological improvements in vehicle efficiency and trailers have the potential to cut average fuel use to move each tonne of freight by 64 per cent.

So while regulating heavy-duty freight emissions is a positive step that we support in general, clearly Canada can go further.

The test we need to apply to all new federal policies is not simply to ask whether they align with what the U.S. does, but whether they make an adequate contribution to hitting Canada's 2020 target.

In some cases, Canada isn't yet hitting even the lower standard of harmonizing with the U.S. Last month, the White House announced new and improved fuel efficiency rules for passenger vehicles; the new regulations will cover the years 2017—2025.

Canada has an opportunity to meet or beat those rules by avoiding loopholes that the specific U.S. legislation requires. If we designed a smart and effective Canadian version of these regulations, it could result in real and significant improvements to the vehicles we drive. But so far, the federal government has not made a public commitment even to match the new U.S. proposal.

The proposed freight regulations give the government the same opportunity to get the design right and avoid loopholes.

Heavy-duty trucks are one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas pollution in Canada, second only to the oilsands. Fuel efficiency regulations can improve the performance of new vehicles, but a sustainable freight strategy also means taking action to improve the efficiency of shipping as a whole, not just the vehicles. Options like making greater use of rail or putting a price tag on transportation emissions to encourage less long-distance hauling also have important contributions to make.

Find more content by topic: Climate Change, Transportation, Corporate Action, Federal Action.

yuriwatanabe — Mar 01, 2012 - 01:58 AM MT

not a bad way of protecting the environment

hamish wilson — Dec 19, 2011 - 08:04 PM MT

How much extra efficiency might be gained with adding sideguards between wheels and under the compartments that would also perhaps benefit cyclists and peds to help them not get drawn in and run over?

MP Oivia Chow is working on a petition for safe trucks; and there's safetrucks.ca as a link.

Roger Gagne — Aug 26, 2011 - 08:53 PM MT

And then there's the option of the good old carbon tax...

“Automobile fuel efficiency standards have reduced somewhat U.S. oil consumption, but in an unnecessarily costly manner, and they do nothing to reduce the miles we drive. Economists have estimated that a gasoline tax of just 25 cents a gallon would have saved as much oil as these fuel efficiency standards at one-third the cost to the economy.”
Michael J. Graetz - “The High Cost of Oil” - Los Angeles Times - March 7, 2011

Claude Boucher — Aug 26, 2011 - 01:16 PM MT

Efficiency measures are fine and dandy, but thay are only part of the answer with regards to the problem in the freight transport sector.

If you take Quebec, GHG emissions from this sector increased by 80% between 1990 and 2008. The number of trucks increased by 20% while the distance travelled almost doubled.
( http://www.mddep.gouv.qc.ca/changements/plan_action/etat-lieux/etat-lieu... , p. 11 )

North America should do much more to incerase intermodality, rehabilitate the shipping and railroad networks so they can compete with trucking.

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