WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) - President Obama announced on Tuesday that his administration will begin developing the next phase of tighter fuel efficiency standards for medium and heavy-duty vehicles.
The announcement, which Obama made at a distribution center for the grocery chain Safeway in Upper Marlboro, Md., follows his State of the Union pledge last month to set new fuel standards for trucks "so we can keep driving down oil and imports and what we pay at the pump."
The president ordered the Environmental Protection Agency and Transportation Department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to develop and issue new fuel-efficiency and greenhouse gas standards by March 31, 2016.
"The goal we are setting is ambitious," Obama said of his plans to set new fuel standards. "But these are areas where ambition has worked out really well for us so far."
Although heavy-duty vehicles account for just 4% of registered vehicles on the road in the USA, they account for approximately 25% of road-fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions coming from the transportation sector.
From a previous round of bolstering fuel standards, which were finalized by the Obama administration in 2011, the White House projects the country will save about 530 million barrels of oil — more than what is imported annually from Saudi Arabia — and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 270 million metric tons.
The president also previously issued new standards that double fuel efficiency in light vehicles and trucks by 2025. The light-vehicle standards are eventually projected to reduce fuel consumption by 2.2 million barrels per day.
Obama's 2011 directive on heavy-duty vehicles impacted new models from 2014 to 2018. According to those standards, manufacturers of big rigs and semi trucks were required to achieve a 20% reduction in fuel consumption and greenhouse emissions, heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans were required to achieve a 15% reduction, and delivery trucks, buses and garbage trucks were required to achieve a 10% reduction. The administration touts the first round standards will save vehicle owners and operators $50 billion in fuel costs.
In the administration's past push for bolstering fuel efficiency standards for passenger and heavy-duty vehicles, manufacturers had expressed some resistance to Washington dictating costly improvements. But as the administration has made reducing fuel consumption a top priority, the manufacturers have sought to have a greater voice in shaping the rules.
"Every time someone says you can't grow the economy, while bringing down pollution, it turns out they've been wrong," Obama said. "Anybody who says we can't compete when it comes to clean energy technologies -- like solar and wind -- they've had to eat those words."
The administration is offering tax credits to manufacturers of heavy-duty alternative fuel vehicles as well as to companies that are building infrastructure, so vehicles that running on alternative fuels have places to fill up.
The Heavy Duty Fuel Efficiency Leadership Group, an alliance of trucking companies, said in a statement that as Obama considers the next phase of fuel standards "it is important to ensure flexibility and provide incentives as key attributes of any regulations going forward" to their industry as well.
Obama also is calling for Congress to end subsidies to oil and gas companies and create an Energy Security Trust Fund to fund research and development for advanced vehicle technologies.
The White House picked the Safeway distribution center because the grocery chain —which has participated in an EPA-led initiative — has made big strides improving the efficiency of its trucking fleet.
Obama took a moment at the beginning of his remarks to mention his "soft spot" for the grocery chain, recalling how his grandmother would send him to his local Safeway in Hawaii.
The president also praised Safeway for being an early leader on the issue of fuel efficiency by improving the aerodynamics of its trucks, investing in larger trailers and more efficient tires in its fleet.