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Construction Is Lukewarm on First Fuel-Economy Rules

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Courtesy of Inland Kenworth
A piece of heavy equipment loads a large dump truck. Large construction trucks will be required to cut fuel economy 10% by 2018 to meet new federal greenhouse-gas rules.
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While construction industry leaders aren’t objecting to the new efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles that were announced on Aug. 9, they are not pleased with the likely long-term repercussions of the standards.

“It's probably a good thing," explains Brian Deery, senior director of the highway and transportation division for the Associated General Contractors of America, Arlington, Va. "I’ve been hearing [members] say for a long time that we need more efficient vehicles, but this will just add to the dismalness of the Highway Trust Fund.”

According to construction industry trade groups, road-maintenance funding will come up short some $800 million to $900 million each year as a result of the fuel-efficiency requirements.

Under the new national program announced by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Dept. of Transportation, large trucks, vans and buses built in 2014 through 2018 will be required to reduce fuel consumption by a projected 530 million barrels of oil and greenhouse-gas emissions by about 270 million metric tons.

The standards were developed at the request of the manufacturers, purchasers and drivers of the trucks, said President Barack Obama when introducing the new emission limits. Environmental groups applaud the standards as a good step toward reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and helping the nation become energy-independent.

“Despite representing only 4% of all the vehicles on the road, the trucks covered by today’s announcement consume 20% of all on-road transportation fuel used each year but have never been subject to federal fuel-efficiency or carbon-pollution standards,” says Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, in a statement.

William Buechner, vice president of economics and research for the Washington, D.C.-based American Road and Transportation Builders Association, says the 10% fuel-efficiency improvement in diesel trucks will result in a 10% cut into the $8 billion to $9 billion in revenue generated by diesel trucks each year.

“Nobody is objecting to the standards, there is just no consideration to what [they are] doing to Highway Trust Fund revenues,” Buechner says. Both Deery and Buechner say that, in combination with the even bigger hits the trust fund will take when upcoming fuel standards for light-duty vehicles go into effect, Congress needs to find another revenue stream for transportation upkeep.

“The Highway Trust Fund is already down to fumes, and it could be cut as much as 35% in the next six years,” Deery says, adding that there is talk about moving toward a mileage fee as a replacement funding source for the trust fund.

For Thad Pirtle, vice president and equipment manager for Evansville, Ind.-based heavy-civil contractor Traylor Bros., the impact is more than theoretical. “Any change in emissions standards always costs us money,” he says. “It makes it difficult to plan.”

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