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Obama targets trucks in bid to limit greenhouse gases

New rules would reduce carbon emissions by ’15

President Obama highlighted fuel standard goals during a visit Tuesday to a Safeway distribution center in Maryland.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President Obama highlighted fuel standard goals during a visit Tuesday to a Safeway distribution center in Maryland.

UPPER MARLBORO, Md. — President Obama took another step to curb greenhouse gas pollution without waiting for Congress, as he directed his administration Tuesday to develop new regulations to reduce carbon emissions from heavy-duty trucks that transport the nation’s goods.

Appearing in a grocery chain truck bay in this Washington suburb, the president said the Transportation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency would draft new fuel economy standards for trucks by March 2015, so they could be completed a year after that as he attempts to put in place a new regulatory structure before leaving office.

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“Improving gas mileage for these trucks is going to drive down our oil imports even further,” Obama said, standing next to a Peterbilt truck and in front of two truck cabs emblazoned with Safeway and Coca-Cola corporate logos. “That reduces carbon pollution even more, cuts down on businesses’ fuel costs, which should pay off in lower prices for consumers. So it’s not just a win-win; it’s a win-win-win. We got three wins.”

Not everyone sees it that way. Car and truck manufacturers in the United States have lobbied heavily against aggressive increases in federal fuel economy standards, saying that they could increase vehicle prices and diminish safety.

White House officials said the EPA and the Transportation Department would work closely with truck manufacturers as they prepared the new rules.

Pollution from transportation is the nation’s second-largest source of greenhouse gas pollution. In 2011, the EPA issued its first round of fuel-economy regulations for US trucks and heavy-duty vehicles built in the model years 2014-18, which the agency projects will reduce carbon pollution by 270 million metric tons, or the equivalent of taking 56 million passenger vehicles off the road for a year.

In announcing the next round of standards at a Safeway supermarket distribution center, Obama noted that heavy-duty trucks represent just 4 percent of all vehicles on the highways but generate 20 percent of the carbon pollution produced by the transportation sector.

Environmentalists applauded Obama’s announcement. Michelle Robinson, the director of the clean vehicles program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said improving fuel efficiency of heavy-duty trucks could reduce oil consumption by as much as 1 million barrels a day by 2035, more than the capacity of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

“Taking advantage of these potential oil savings — and the economic benefits and jobs that come with them — will require the new round of standards to look at a suite of technologies available today and in the years to come,” Robinson said.

A coalition of shippers that stand to benefit from lower fuel costs, including FedEx, Wabash National, and Waste Management, also welcomed the president’s action and released its own principles that it would like to see shape the administration’s review.

“This collaborative approach will result in realistic, achievable goals and an effective regulatory framework to improve fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Douglas W. Stotlar, president of Con-way, the nation’s third-largest freight company and a member of the coalition.

The American Trucking Association took a more cautious approach, noting that it had worked with the administration on previous rules.

“As we begin this new round of standards, ATA hopes the administration will set forth a path that is both based on the best science and research available and economically achievable,” said Bill Graves, the group’s chief executive.

Obama pointed to what he characterized as an emerging consensus. “If rivals like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola or UPS and FedEx or AT&T and Verizon, if they can join together on this, then maybe Democrats and Republicans can do the same,” he said.

Obama’s direction is among several executive actions he is taking on climate change, absent movement from Congress.

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