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

Blog - Aug. 26, 2011 - By 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.

Cherise Burda

Cherise Burda was Ontario director at the Pembina Institute until 2015.


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