Obama Administration Seeks to Make U.S. Highways Cleaner

New fuel efficiency standards are in development for medium- and heavy-duty trucks

The United States imports nearly $1 billion of oil per day, and gasoline prices in 2013 were the third-highest year on record. Although medium- and heavy-duty trucks represent only 7 percent of vehicles on U.S. roads, they account for more than 25 percent of transportation fuel and greenhouse gas emissions. These trucks represent the fastest-growing source of petroleum use in the country, and fueling them costs the average household $1,100 per year. Combination trailers, for example, transport 70 percent of all freight tonnage in the United States and achieve an average fuel efficiency of only 6.5 miles per gallon, which results in fuel costs of approximately $73,000 per year. Greater fuel efficiency in these vehicles could save U.S. consumers more than $32 billion per year.

In the past decade, Republican and Democratic administrations have supported federal fuel efficiency and emission standards that will save vehicle owners trillions of dollars on fuel costs, reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, and lower harmful pollution. To expand on these benefits, the Obama administration is in the early phase of developing new regulations for medium- and heavy-duty trucks that are expected to be released in spring 2015.

Recent successes provide a roadmap

In August 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, finalized fuel efficiency and emission standards of 54.5 miles per gallon for light-duty trucks or passenger vehicles by model year 2025. These rules will effectively double the distance today’s cars can drive on a gallon of gas. Combined with previous standards, they will save consumers more than $1.7 trillion in fuel costs, including more than $8,000 in individual savings over the life of a 2025 model year vehicle. During this same time, combined light-duty fuel efficiency standards will reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil by 12 billion barrels.

The first standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks were released in 2011 when the EPA and NHTSA finalized a rule covering vehicles, from semitrucks to the largest pickup trucks and vans, as well as all types and sizes of work trucks and buses for model years 2014 to 2018. This regulation will save vehicle owners $50 billion on fuel costs, reduce oil consumption by 530 million barrels, and cut carbon pollution by 270 million metric tons. They will also enhance American competitiveness and job creation, improve energy security, benefit consumers and businesses by lowering costs for transporting goods, and spur growth in the clean energy sector.

Stronger fuel efficiency for medium- and heavy-duty trucks

In early 2015, the EPA and NHTSA are expected to issue draft rules covering medium- and heavy-duty trucks and vans, vocational vehicles, and trailers sold after 2018. The proposal could achieve total reductions in fuel consumption of 40 percent by 2025, compared with 2010.

Stronger truck standards are complemented by existing federal programs that promote technology innovation in vehicles:

  • The Department of Energy’s SuperTruck Program has set a goal of increasing the efficiency of combination trailers by 50 percent by 2015. Companies such as Volvo, Cummins, and Navistar are working to achieve breakthroughs that will give them an advantage in this sector.
  • The National Clean Fleets Partnership works with companies that have truck fleets, including Coca Cola, AT&T, and UPS, and provides informational resources and technical assistance to help them reduce fuel costs by adopting more efficient vehicles.
  • The Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program in the Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office provides direct loans to assist original equipment manufacturers and large suppliers in producing vehicles that achieve greater efficiency. Past recipients of these loans include Ford, Tesla, and Nissan.

Medium- and heavy-duty trucks account for 7 percent of traffic on U.S. highways.

Because the trucking sector is likely to continue its recent growth, the United States has an opportunity to increase its competitiveness in truck manufacturing, trucking fleets, and businesses that use these vehicles to deliver goods to customers. Strong, predictable fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks can unleash innovation, build upon recent successes in the auto manufacturing industry, and save consumers and businesses on future fuel costs while reducing harmful pollution and U.S. dependence on foreign oil.


2007: Congress passed the first changes to U.S. fuel-economy standards in nearly 20 years. A part of the larger Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the provision raised Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards for cars, SUVs, and pickups by about 40 percent—to 35 mpg by 2020.

2009: President Barack Obama accelerated the increase in the CAFE standards approved by former President George W. Bush. The joint EPA and NHTSA rule applies to model years 2012 to 2016, requiring a fleet-wide average of 35.5 mpg by 2016.

2011: In August 2011, the EPA and NHTSA announced the final joint fuel efficiency and tailpipe emission standards for heavy duty vehicles in model years 2014 to 2018, categorized by three groups: combination tractors, heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans, and certain vocational vehicles.

2012: In August 2012, President Obama announced final fuel efficiency standards that increase to 54.5 mpg for light-duty vehicles produced from model years 2017 to 2025. These measures will effectively double the fuel efficiency of U.S. vehicle fleets by 2025.

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