Environmental Group Offers Congress a Map to Cleaner Freight

The federal government can reap significant pollution-reduction benefits by focusing on a national freight plan that replaces older diesel equipment with newer, cleaner-burning train cars while building out regional networks more efficiently, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) said yesterday in a new report [PDF].

chicago.jpgFreight rail in Chicago, home of the stimulus-funded CREATE freight project. (Photo: NSTPRSC)

The EDF report, aimed at lawmakers crafting the nation's next long-term transportation bill, uses freight's growing share of U.S. carbon emissions as a jumping-off point to call for broad reforms.

Freight currently accounts for 25 percent of the transport sector's annual greenhouse gas production, according to EDF, but the government has reported that freight's share of total emissions is growing twice as fast as that of passenger transport -- thanks principally to the rise of truck freight movement.

One of the report's first examples of local freight reform is the CREATE project, a federally funded effort to better align freight and passenger train movement in the Chicago area. But the EDF's policy agenda is not limited to rail; efforts to retrofit and clean up diesel vehicles, such as California's Carl Moyer program, get their due.

Two more auto-centric recommendations from EDF are increased use of tolling, which the group believes could be a tool for reducing emissions, and electrifying truck stops. How do idling truckers contribute to freight's greenhouse gas production? From the report:

Federally mandated safety rest periods for truck drivers often lead to idling to maintain heating, air­conditioning and other cab comforts. The average sleeper cab tractor idles for 1,500 to 3,000 hours per year, consuming an average of one gallon of diesel per hour. With each gallon of conventional diesel emitting 22 pounds of carbon dioxide, EPA estimates that long­duration idling generates more than 11 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.

Truck stop electrification eliminates this idling and fuel consumption by allowing truck drivers to connect to an electric power system. Truck stop electrification provides truckers with the same creature comforts and work needs, but keeps the surrounding air and cab free of toxic pollution and greenhouse gases.