Leadership for real at the North American Leaders Summit

Yesterday, the three political leaders of North America, President Peña Nieto, President Obama, and Prime Minister Harper, met to discuss ways in which their countries could work better together. One of the specific items they committed to was “North American adherence to high standards in fuel quality, emissions standards, and fuel efficiency for heavy-duty vehicles.” (A fact sheet outlining their discussions and various points of agreement is available in English here and in Spanish here.) In practice this means alignment of Mexico with the world-class standards already in place in the U.S. and Canada, namely, 15 ppm sulfur fuel, EPA 2010 emissions standards [.pdf], and the first-ever greenhouse gas (GHG) standards for heavy-duty vehicles to be implemented anywhere in the world. Coming as it does on the heels of President Obama’s announcement of Phase 2 GHG and efficiency standards for heavy-duty vehicles, this commitment of the North American leaders suggests this alignment will be maintained as standards are improved.

Mexico has lagged on fuel quality and emissions standards. A new heavy-duty vehicle sold in Mexico has 200 times higher emissions of black carbon (a potent climate pollutant), 80 times higher emissions of NOx (a critical precursor for ozone smog), and 40 times higher emissions of particles (the most deadly pollutant emitted by vehicles). The leaders also committed to “continuing trilateral coordination in the Climate and Clean Air Coalition.” The CCAC specifically focuses on reductions of black carbon, a climate pollutant that is 3200 times more potent than CO2 in the near term. As an important and easily-controlled source of black carbon, diesel vehicles are a particular area of interest to the CCAC, and the coalition’s Diesel Initiative has actively supported Mexico’s efforts to reduce diesel emissions, promoting both the global climate and local health benefits that result.

In contrast to many critical advances in control of emissions, alignment with EPA 2010 emissions standards will bring with it significant savings in fuel consumption. Even before Phase 1 of the fuel efficiency standards kicked in this year, new heavy-duty engines sold in the US and Canada were 3–5% more efficient than equivalent engines sold in Mexico, enough improvement to pay for the incremental costs associated with emissions standards within 1 to 2 years. With adoption of current efficiency standards, the most intensively used heavy-duty vehicles could reduce vehicle fuel consumption up to 23%. Green freight programs, SmartWay in the U.S. and Canada and Transporte Limpio in Mexico, can help to ensure that efficiency improvements are optimized through operational and in-use savings.

The day before the summit in Mexico, President Obama stated that the Phase 2 efficiency standards for heavy trucks were a win-win-win. The wins for Mexico are almost too numerous to mention. To begin with, the industry is supportive. At a Daimler plant in Mexico, when asked when they could start delivering cleaner vehicles to Mexico, provided clean fuel was available, the head of the factory’s one-word response was, “tomorrow.” Alignment will help ease the product supply for manufacturers and help them deliver a more fuel efficient vehicles, something that every heavy-duty truck owner wants. Aligned fuel quality and emissions standards will free up movement of freight shipping throughout the region, offering significant efficiency and operational benefits. All this translates to fuel savings and cost savings that can be invested back into business or passed on to consumers. If Mexico’s energy sector reform [.pdf] does lead to increasing crude oil production, as hoped, less fuel used for heavy-trucks in Mexico still means more fuel exported and more money flowing into the Mexican economy.

Of course, for the ICCT, our highest priorities are the tremendous wins for public health and the environment. We estimate that this suite of regulations (fuel quality, emissions standards, and Phase 1 efficiency standards for heavy trucks) will save 8,000 lives and reduce CO2-equivalent emissions by 60 million metric tons in 2035. This will be a cumulative savings of approximately 8 billion gallons of diesel and 1 billion gallons of gasoline, a total of US$35 billion in fuel savings out to 2035. Leveraging the SmartWay program to expand the impact of Transporte Limpio and continuing with Phase 2 of the fuel efficiency standards will extend these benefits dramatically. All told, alignment of heavy-duty policies could result in one of the cleanest, most efficient regional truck freight networks in the world, with benefits that will be felt by residents throughout North America.