$500M STEER Act could help bridge gap to zero-emission trucks

As the Biden administration moves quickly to promote zero-emission trucks, new legislation will take a more conservative approach that supporters say would help the industry cut emissions even sooner.

The Supporting Trucking Efficiency and Emission Reductions (STEER) Act, expected to be formally unveiled this week by U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., authorizes $100 million annually from 2022-2026, for a total of $500 million, to set up a voucher program for retrofitting heavy-duty trucks with emission-reducing technology that is currently available.

According to a draft version of the legislation, expenses or investments eligible for funding include “any physical alterations of a Class 8 truck that can be installed as a retrofit and that adapt automatically to control vehicle performance factors and improve fuel efficiency, including active aerodynamic, active rolling resistance, dynamic axle lift control, non-APU active idle reduction, and other such emerging improvements.”

Fleet size determines voucher size

The draft states that voucher amounts for each technology included in the legislation will cover the lesser of:

  • $4,000 or 75% of total costs per unit for fleets operating 10 trucks or fewer.
  • $3,500 or 72.5% of total costs per unit for fleets operating 50 trucks or fewer.
  • $3,000 or 70% of total costs per unit for fleets operating 100 trucks or fewer.
  • $2,500 or 67.5% of total costs per unit for fleets operating more than 100 trucks.

“We can reduce fuel consumption and emissions in the transportation industry without enacting costly environmental mandates on American companies and workers,” Davis said. “That’s why I’m introducing the STEER Act. It’s commonsense, market-driven ideas like my legislation, not heavy-handed policies from Washington, that will protect American workers and our environment without destroying our economy.”

Government-driven mandates

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Truck Plan, announced on Aug. 5. EPA plans to propose and finalize stringent new emissions standards by December 2022 that will reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution from trucks starting in model year 2027. The new standards in that rule will include an update of existing greenhouse gas (GHG) standards aimed at capturing “market shifts” to zero-emission technologies in certain segments of the heavy-duty truck sector.

Separately, EPA is working on tighter GHG emissions standards for heavy-duty engines and trucks starting as soon as model year 2030.

“Taken together, these new multi-pollutant standards will improve public health in our communities and set the U.S. on a course to achieve ambitious levels of GHG emissions reductions from commercial highway transportation over the long term,” EPA stated.

Mobile-source GHGs (2019) Source: EPA

EPA’s announcement coincided with an executive order issued the same day by President Joe Biden that cited the new standards and directed EPA to coordinate with the state of California and other states “that are leading the way in reducing vehicle emissions, including by adopting California’s standards.”

The bipartisan infrastructure package, which passed the U.S. Senate on Tuesday and must now be considered by the House, included $7.5 billion to expand electric vehicle charging stations.

Bridging the EV gap

But Daniel Burrows, CEO of TruckLabs, a Redwood City, California-based trucking technology company, points out that at least 95% of Class 8 trucks being manufactured run on diesel fuel, and that there is a significant gap to close before the electric vehicles begin to meaningfully contribute to cutting emissions.

“Rather than the government picking winners on the fuel source, let’s make trucks more efficient and help reduce emissions on diesel trucks today, while at the same time enabling an electric future,” Burrows told FreightWaves.

Burrows’ company makes TruckWings, a tractor-mounted aerodynamic device that automatically closes the gap between the cab and the trailer at highway speeds to reduce drag, improve handling and save fuel. His company would directly benefit from Davis’ legislation.

“For truck drivers, roughly two-thirds of your fuel, whether it comes from carbon or electrons, is spent overcoming aerodynamic drag,” he said. “By making trucks more aerodynamic, it’s a win for all the fuel sources.”

Burrows contends that if it’s the Biden administration’s goal to decrease emissions in the transportation sector, “it’s actually better to emphasize technologies that are here today that could be more widely adopted and which would provide a step-change in carbon reduction.”

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