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September 23, 2013 8:00 AM, EDT

Opinion: Environmentalists and Trucking

This Opinion piece appears in the Sept. 23 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

By Allen Campbell

Owner-Operator/Software Developer

TruckingOffice LLC

The word “green” today means far more than the color of money. It refers to a set of practices and positions that embrace efforts to reduce mankind’s impact on the earth’s environment.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the environment-related green movement is its call to reduce the carbon emissions produced by motor vehicles, including commercial trucks. This assertion has received a less-than-enthusiastic reception in many parts of the trucking industry. The reasons for this are complex but center on these issues:

• Cultural differences between leaders of the green movement and members of the trucking industry.

• Concerns that stricter fuel-efficiency standards will have a negative effect on revenue and profit margins.

• Differing views of the proper role of government in regulating private enterprises.

• Skepticism about the reality of human-caused global climate change.

And yet, without minimizing these differences in opinion and outlook, there is still room for consensus between environmentalists and transportation professionals. For example, people can disagree about global warming while agreeing that reducing pollutants released into the atmosphere is a worthy goal. In fact, truckers often see the effects of pollution in their cross-country travels to smog-prone cities such as Denver.

It also doesn’t take a degree in economics to understand that the single greatest expense in commercial transport is the cost of fuel. Any invention or innovation that enables a rig to go farther on a gallon of diesel should be welcomed by environmentalists, drivers and company owners alike. Surely everyone can agree that the petroleum industry will get by just fine with a little less trucking industry money flowing into its bank accounts.

With a consensus built around common interests in pollution reduction and lower fuel bills, environmentalists and commercial carriers can focus on issues that will benefit both the earth and the bottom line. Here are five specific areas these two groups can work together on:

• Enacting a national 65-mph speed limit and using governors to reduce the speeds of trucks built since 1992: A commercial truck going 75 mph burns 27% more fuel than the same vehicle going 65 mph. The math shows that capping speeds for all drivers at 65 mph would save nearly 3 billion gallons of diesel over the next decade. That’s a savings to truckers of about $10 billion based on today’s fuel prices. The limit also would cut CO2 emissions over the same period by 31.5 million tons.

Everyday commuters would benefit as well as professional drivers. Passenger vehicles would use nearly 9 billion fewer gallons of gasoline over the same 10-year period, reducing CO2 emissions by almost 85 million tons. The results would include more money in everyone’s pocket and cleaner air to breathe.

• Reducing engine idling: Trucks idle for different reasons. Sometimes, it’s because they are stuck in traffic jams or at red lights. Other times, idling is needed to maintain the truck’s climate-control systems for the driver’s comfort and well-being.

Both situations can be addressed by technological developments such as shore power provided by truck stops that can minimize the fuel consumed while a truck isn’t moving. This has the potential to further reduce fuel bills and prevent more than 60 million tons of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere over the next decade.

• Relieving America’s congested highways through infrastructure development: Reducing congestion is a major goal for everyone involved in transportation, but the current infrastructure is simply not up to the task of supporting America’s industrial and commercial activities.

Anyone who has been stuck for hours in traffic jams or bottlenecks knows this all too well. Highway expansion will provide millions of jobs and make transportation corridors more efficient. Expansion also will greatly reduce the amount of idling by commercial and personal vehicles, leading to economic and environmental benefits for everyone.

 • Making trucks more fuel-efficient: Another gambit is to squeeze more energy out of each drop of fuel. Supporting manufacturers’ efforts to create more efficient engines simply makes good sense. One avenue increasingly explored is transitioning the trucking industry from diesel fuel to its natural-gas equivalent. This is a real-world solution that can be applied now without waiting for new technologies to be developed. Natural gas burns much cleaner than diesel and costs as much as 40% less to travel the same distance. This is a win-win scenario for environmentalists and professional drivers alike.

• Using more productive tractor-trailer combinations in everyday operations: Permitting tractor-trailers to have a gross vehicle weight of 97,000 pounds will allow more goods to be carried by fewer trucks. This has the potential to benefit the economy in numerous ways, including reduced freight costs, easing the shortage of professional drivers and making each run more profitable. Using heavier 33-foot double trailers and longer combination vehicle (LCV) units will have similar benefits.

Of course, when it comes to any controversy, there always will be extremists who refuse to compromise. That should not prevent environmentalists and trucking industry professionals from working together. By pursuing the initiatives outlined above, both camps can address their primary aims while creating a better economic and natural environment for everyone to enjoy.

TruckingOffice LLC, based in San Antonio, provides online trucking-management software to owner-operators in the United States and Canada.