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Impact York: New federal emissions standards

John Joyce
505-5432/@JohnJoyceYD
  • The U.S. EPA and Dept. of Transportation seeks to cut 1.1 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions through 2027.
  • The plan, four years in the making, will require more fuel efficiency and fewer emissions on heavy-duty trucks and buses.
  • York trucking and mass transit companies say they support cleaner air and lower fuel costs but question the savings potential.

Rabbit Transit has planned for years to convert its fleet of buses to run on cleaner-burning natural gas, and this weekend York County's public transportation agency finally will move into a compressed natural-gas facility — just days after new federal emissions and fuel-efficiency standards for heavy-duty vehicles were announced.

Although the timing appears to be a coincidence, it's clear the agency and federal regulators are on the same page.

"Anything we can do to improve air quality is important," said RIchard Farr, Rabbit Transit's executive director.

The new standards —  a joint effort by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — are intended to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 1.1 billion metric tons and save vehicle owners a projected $170 billion in fuel costs.

Under the rules, new tractor-trailers, large pickups and vans, as well as all types of buses and work trucks will have to comply with the new standards from model years 2021 through 2027, according to a Department of Transportation news release.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the steps taken in the new emissions and fuel efficiency standards plan will "help lessen the impacts on future generations," according to the release.

Here in York, operators of heavy-duty trucks, buses and van lines say they have been preparing for the changes well in advance, even before hearing about the newly finalized EPA and NHTSA plan.

Public transportation: Rabbit Transit's goal is to reduce its own carbon footprint, according to Farr.

In addition to its move to the compressed natural gas (CNG) facility on Zarfoss Drive in West Manchester Township, the agency recently completed an order for its first batch of CNG buses, which Farr said, should begin arriving within the year.

The CNG buses cost only about $20,000 more than the traditional diesel buses the company has relied on for years, which roll in around $400,000 each.

Because greater fuel efficiency will offset the vehicles' higher purchase prices, Rabbit Transit will not have to raise prices for customers, Farr said.

"Our manufacturers will have to meet these new requirements, or we won't be able to purchase the new vehicles," he said.

Oil: The new federal standards also are  projected to reduce oil consumption by 2 billion barrels over the lifetime of the vehicles manufactured under the new guidelines and will provide $230 billion in net benefits to society, the Transportation Department release states.

In a subsequent news release issued by the American Trucking Association, ATA President Chris Spear noted fuel prices — currently 50 percent lower than in 2008 — are still among the top two operating costs for most trucking companies.

"That's why our industry has worked closely with both the EPA and the NHTSA over the past 3½ years to ensure these fuel-efficiency and greenhouse-gas standards," Spear said in a written statement.

Trucking: York Container Co. transportation manager Dave Schafer said the local impact will depend on how accurate the government's assessment is regarding the cost savings through fuel efficiency versus the expense of new trucks manufactured under the new guidelines.

York Container maintains a fleet of 12 trucks and 49 trailers and serves a 180-mile radius around York. The company has, in recent years, begun to change over its older-model trucks for newer models, Schafer said.

"If you're gaining (the costs) back in fuel economy, it's good," Schafer said. "If it's going to be offset by higher costs than what the savings are, it's not going to help."

According to the Transportation Department news release, the buyer of a new long-haul truck in 2027 would recoup the costs in fuel costs savings over the following two years.

Trucking company owners also will  likely consider long-term maintenance costs when deciding to purchase new trucks manufactured under the more stringent guidelines. Sometimes more fuel-efficient components cost more to repair or replace than the older models, Schafer said.

"I think it's going to keep people hanging on to the equipment they have," he said.

Schafer also made note that the trucking industry alone is not responsible for — or can it alone be regulated to reduce — contaminants linked to climate change.

In addition to coal and other fossil fuels, there are some manufacturing facilities that cut corners, and not everyone disposes of aerosol cans properly, he said.

"It's far-reaching. It's a global problem," he said. "Everyone has a stake in the game."

— Reach John Joyce at jjoyce2@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter @JohnJoyceYD.