The Obama administration took two important actions over the past two weeks to cut U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. On June 10, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took the first steps toward addressing GHG emissions from airplanes, setting the stage for future development of a carbon dioxide emissions standard for commercial airplane engines. And EPA and the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) last week proposed a second round of fuel economy standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks, building on the first phase of standards that cover vehicle model years 2014-2018.
Large trucks and airplanes account for about one-third of total U.S. transportation emissions. WRI analysis shows that setting strong efficiency standards for these sectors could deliver at least 6 percent of the total reductions the United States needs to meet its goal of reducing total emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
The question now is: Will the standards be strong enough to achieve the full range of emissions reductions? By setting strong standards for these sources, the United States has the opportunity to check off two important items on the 10-point action plan WRI developed that details how the country can meet the 2025 target.
How Can These Actions Help Meet U.S. Climate Goals?
Efficiency standards can cut fuel consumption and save money for Americans while reducing emissions.
EPA’s proposed standards for large trucks take advantage of many cost-effective technologies generally in line with what we recommended as part of our 10-point plan, increasing fuel efficiency of medium-and heavy-duty vehicles up to 40 percent by 2027 compared to 2010 levels. These improvements are possible using a range of existing technologies that pay for themselves in fewer than two years on average, including advanced engines, aerodynamic enhancements for tractors and trailers, hybrid and electric drive options, and weight reduction. However, experts suggest that the proposed standards could go a bit further over a shorter timeline.
It’s less clear what the administration will deliver on airplanes since the standards haven’t been proposed yet. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is currently working on an international carbon dioxide emissions standard for new aircraft, expected to be finished in February 2016. EPA’s announcement contained two necessary steps toward adopting domestic standards that are at least as stringent as these future international standards: an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking, which lays the groundwork and seeks public input on relevant issues like timing and stringency, and a proposed finding that commercial airplane GHG emissions pose a danger to public health.
Studies show that there’s plenty of room for improvement in aircraft fuel efficiency, in the range of 20-30 percent or greater in the 2025-30 timeframe through use of improved engines, lower weight and reduced drag. Some stakeholders are concerned that ICAO’s standards might not be stringent enough to take full advantage of these opportunities. If this is the case, EPA should adopt stronger standards. To capture the potential we identified in our report, EPA should implement standards by 2020 that can achieve at least 2-3 percent annual improvement in the fuel efficiency of new aircraft through 2040.
New Actions Build on Current Progress
Current fuel economy standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks are already set to deliver big benefits, including fuel savings, improved public health, reduced emissions and enhanced energy security. EPA estimates that these benefits will add up to $49 billion over the lifetime of model year 2014-2018 vehicles after taking program costs into account.
While the United States doesn’t currently have emissions standards for aircraft, the Federal Aviation Administration has initiatives in place to improve fuel efficiency through operations, like establishing direct routes and reducing delays. Expanding these initiatives will also be necessary to capture the reductions we identified in our 10-point plan. By building on the progress it’s made so far, the country can capture money-saving opportunities as it makes strides toward its climate goals.
Delivering on the Climate Commitment
The activity this week is a step in the right direction. Going forward, these actions must be complemented by strong action across the economy. To achieve or even exceed its 2025 commitment, the administration will need to follow its action this week by finalizing strong power plant standards, increasing efforts to improve industrial energy efficiency, reducing methane emissions from both new and existing sources and more. By keeping the momentum going, the U.S. can deliver on its 2025 goal and pave the way to deeper reductions in the future.