Truckers deliver a dose of reality on greenhouse gas proposal

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor


Jami Jones, managing editor

What does a regulation cost? If you're the EPA and NHTSA, you put your numbers to it and tell truckers that the thousands of dollars being added to the sticker price of new vehicles to accommodate new designs and technologies will easily be recouped through fuel savings.

But if you're a trucking professional, and OOIDA Life Member Tilden Curl of Olympia, Wash., has been one for a long time, the true cost of a regulation is not limited to sticker price.

Speaking to representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration during an August listening session in Long Beach, Calif., Curl shared his own very real numbers.

Curl detailed his truck ownership and fuel economy starting with a 1995 Peterbilt he bought for $65,000. After 10 years with the truck, Curl had invested just less than $95,000 in maintenance and repairs, including a rebuild and transmission. The last year he owned the truck he averaged 6.58 mpg.

In October 2008, Curl purchased a new aerodynamic, emission-compliant 2009 Kenworth for $140,000. In seven years of ownership, Curl drove the truck more than 752,000 miles and had $105,000 in maintenance and repairs. He suffered significant downtime that hurt his income and reputation as a reliable carrier, he told the panel. And, in the end, the truck was only able to achieve 6.15 mpg.

Finally giving up on the '09 truck, Curl bit the bullet and bought a 2016 Kenworth earlier this year for $167,000. He had originally planned to pay off the 2009 Kenworth and sock away what was the truck payment toward his retirement, he told the panel.

"As I see it, these regulations, and a rush to push technology beyond tested capabilities, have cost me my retirement. There is no mechanism in place to compensate small-business truckers for the costs of these mandates," he said. "We cannot afford for this to happen again."

Curl told the panel that there is a great deal of skepticism about promises of technology that will not cost much more, but will provide savings.

"With this widespread background of experiences, small-business truckers such as myself will find it hard to believe that a mandate from EPA/NHTSA will truly benefit them," he said.

Feedback gathered by the EPA and NHTSA will be considered as the agencies craft a final rule to bring

Phase 2 of their fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions regulations into being. That would affect truck designs and features, trailers, exhaust systems, drive trains and tires from 2021 through 2027.

Curl cautioned the panel against pushing ahead with mandates that force untested, unreliable technologies to market all for the sake of compliance with regulations.

"There are other alternatives. I was able to achieve good fuel economy with my pre-emissions un-aerodynamic truck partly due to my driving skills. If those skills were taught to others, fuel economy would improve," he said.

He also recounted a recent trip in which he burned an additional 10 gallons of fuel while stuck in traffic - something that needs to be addressed across the country.

"The agencies are seemingly using facts they prefer with little regard for the burdens placed on small-business operations. Technology must have durability. That is crucial for success. We all want a clean environment. The question is: Is your focus in the right place?" he asked.

The Phase 2 proposal builds upon a Phase 1 final rule for model years 2014 through 2018 and for equipment manufacturers to increase fuel economy and reduce carbon emissions by about 23 percent by model year 2027.

Almost every component of trucks and trailers is under scrutiny in the Phase 2 proposal, and manufacturers are given some flexibility to mix and match to reach the desired goals. The proposal also would regulate glider kits for the first time, a controversial step as many owner-operators look to gliders to extend equipment life.

EPA and NHTSA predict that the Phase 2 proposal will add $10,000 to $13,000 to the sticker price for a new truck.

At the first hearing in Chicago, OOIDA Director of Regulatory Affairs Scott Grenerth told the agencies that truck owners and operators generally support fuel efficiency and reduced emissions - but not while sacrificing affordability and uptime.

"Our members have the potential to see the benefits from this rulemaking, but they also can be significantly harmed if it is not done correctly," Grenerth told the panel.

Some of the alternatives provided to manufacturers call for proven and unproven technologies to make gains, he said.

"While the alternatives with shorter lead times may seem enticing with their promised benefits to the environment, there are serious concerns about the feasibility of shorter lead times," Grenerth said.

"There's already a tremendous amount of very well-earned distrust as a result of previous emissions regulations, which led to widespread problems with reliability and high cost," he added. "Members continue to be impacted by those issues every single day."

"OOIDA members want to drive fuel-efficient and reliable trucks that are reasonably priced," Grenerth said. He pointed out that previous EPA emissions regulations have added "tens of thousands" to the cost of new trucks.

A higher sticker price means higher down payments and financing costs.

"First you have to pay for it," Grenerth said.

A survey by the OOIDA Foundation shows that 20 percent of respondents are considering purchasing a new truck. That number was 50 percent just a decade ago.

"(Questionable) reliability and the price have the ability to wipe out the promises of this rulemaking," Grenerth said.

Going beyond offering his own comments on behalf of truckers, Grenerth facilitated a sit-down between truckers and EPA and NHTSA representatives during the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas.

OOIDA Life Member Steve Davenport of Lewisville, Texas, was at the meeting. He told the representatives that the regulations force truckers like him to hold on to older, reliable equipment as long as possible.

"The economies that determine whether you can be in business or not are determined largely by the cost to maintain the equipment," Davenport told the agency reps.

"The truck I own today is an '03 with a Cat motor, and I'm able to get 6 mpg," Davenport told the officials. "The truck has been maintained and, to this point, the truck doesn't use a gallon of oil between oil changes. I religiously do the PM between 12,000 and 15,000 miles. The truck has been exceptional."

Davenport has no plans to trade it in on something unproven even with a promise of 7 or 8 mpg.

Another truck owner at the hearing told the panel that his latest vehicle is failing miserably and costing him in downtime.

"Usually, when I buy trucks, I get a million miles out of them before I get rid of the truck," he said. "This one, I have got 500,000 miles on it and it's burned up, it's done," he said. "I've got two years of payments left on this truck."

That trucker had advice for EPA and NHTSA.

"Personally, if the EPA could give any owner-operators an early Christmas present … create a law for lemon trucks. You would have 10,000 owner-operators in line to buy new trucks," he said.

The truckers thanked EPA and NHTSA reps for attending the truck show and for hearing them out.

"I don't want myself to be in a position where I can't do what I've done all my life," Davenport said.

Grenerth added, "If there is a fuel-efficient truck available that would be affordable and reliable, I would buy it."

At press time, the public comment period for the Phase 2 greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency was scheduled to end Oct. 1. LL