Trucks Gone Green?

This image comes courtesy of, not the Onion.

If BP can stand for "Beyond Petroleum," what’s to stop the trucking industry from claiming to "deliver a cleaner tomorrow"? Not much, apparently.

In a story about the current practices of K Street lobbyists, the Washington Post reports that even the American Trucking Associations — a national trade group — is adopting an eco-friendly tone:

Record gasoline prices have done more than boost advertising budgets for worried energy lobbies. They also have turned long-held positions of significant lobbying groups upside down — and decidedly pro-environmental.

The American Trucking Associations last week did a 180 (or pretty close to that) on two key issues. In news releases notable for their use of the color green, the truck company lobby said it would accept a fuel tax increase — once its most hated policy proposal — if the extra revenue went toward reducing highway congestion. It also suggested tougher fuel economy standards for trucks, another shocker for the trucking industry.

Guess the ATA might have to iron out some differences with Truckers and Citizens United, a more grassroots-style group that staged a gas-guzzling, street-clogging "rally" in Washington last month to protest the price of fuel.

To get its green message across, the ATA has launched a campaign called "Trucks Deliver" touting six steps to reduce the industry’s emissions. Their congestion mitigation strategy comes after the jump.

The American Trucking Associations advocates initiatives to improve highway infrastructure and reduce congestion.

Relieving highway congestion is a critically important strategy for reducing carbon emissions. Improving the nation’s highway infrastructure is a long-range
challenge, and the American Trucking Associations has recommended a
20-year program, focused initially on fixing critical bottlenecks. 
Longer-range ideas include creating truck-only corridors which would
permit carriers to further increase the use of more productive
vehicles. The needed infrastructure improvements can be paid for with a
dedicated fuel tax if necessary. If congestion in all 437 urban areas
were eliminated, the reduction in truck CO2 emissions would be 45.2 million tons over ten years — equal to the annual output of a population the size of the State of Colorado.

Whether the "Trucks Deliver" campaign is an exercise in green-washing,
an adaptation to new economic realities, or a sincere effort to reduce
the trucking industry’s carbon footprint, one thing is clear: They’d
still rather not broach the subject of freight rail.

  • Jeffrey Hymen

    I’ve noticed that the railroads have been advertising more, as the greener alternative to shipping by (expensive, gas-guzzling) trucks.

  • rex

    Jeffery I think you hit the nail on the head. Trains get 423 mpg/ton of freight, and the trucking industry is a little nervous.

  • “If congestion in all 437 urban areas were eliminated…”

    Sounds a little ominous! But I assume they don’t really want to eradicate us, because then we wouldn’t be financing their highly inefficient shipping industry. They just want our passenger cars off the roads, so they can drive faster on them. I like half of that idea! And also the one about extra-special roads for truckers. Except I recommend we roll these futuretrucks on long strips of iron, because that has a much lower coefficient of friction than rubber on asphalt. We could calls these special roads for truckers with iron rails on them “rail-roads”. Large shipments could achieve even greater efficiency (goooo green!) by coupling themselves together, a “train” of shipping cars if you will. WDYT?

  • Moser

    Obviously, there’s nothing green at all about raising fuel taxes to buy a bunch of new highway lanes or new-alignment truck roads, continuing massive public subsidies for trucking (compared to virtually nothing for rail).

  • Well it’s not surprising that these two groups would be at odds with each other, a good number of truckers are independent contractors, and so everything from health insurance to gasoline prices comes out of their own pockets, basically. The rates they make have not gone up to reflect the rise in the cost of fuel. The ATA knows that the trucking companies just pass this along to the drivers, so no harm to any of them.

    Now, if the truckers were really together, they’d be advocating for national healthcare and building a network of co-operatively owned gas wholesalers were they could purchase fuel. But it’s hard to get people to see solutions like this. Even in Europe where truckers are governed by union wages but still counted as independent contractors, truckers repeatedly stage protests over the cost of fuel. In France, they regularly bring shipping to a halt.

  • Josh

    Unless I’m remembering high school physics entirely incorrectly, you don’t want low friction when you’re talking about something that’s rolling.


  • “you don’t want low friction when you’re talking about something that’s rolling”

    Yes you totally do: “Rolling resistance, sometimes called rolling friction or rolling drag, is the resistance that occurs when a round object such as a ball or tire rolls on a surface. It is caused by the deformation of the object, the deformation of the surface, or both. ”

    Sliding friction is what happens when you apply the breaks, which is what I assume you must be thinking of with your misguided nitpick. (I’m not mad, just mad for SCIENCE!)

  • JP

    Christopher is right on. Most truck drivers are Independent Owner-Operators that are contracted by trucking companies. The IOO’s are responsible for the fuel and maintenance of their trucks. It’s no skin off their backs if gas is more expensive.

    The Port of Los Angeles is implementing a Clean Truck Program that requires trucks to adhere by 2007 EPA emissions standards by 2012. The ATA supports this because they get to claim that they are green while the IOO’s foot the bill. The other provision of this, that the trucking companies be required to have employee drivers and are responsible for their trucking fleet, is strongly opposed by the ATA, which is essentially a lobby for the trucking companies, not truckers. The employee provision is meant not only to ensure that the truckers are paid decent wages and have access to health care – but to make sure that the costs of converting to greener technology is borne by the trucking companies rather than low-income workers.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Actually JP the economics of the “independents” involves a very competitive market. To the extent that they all pay the same for diesel fuel if one turns down the haul the next will pick it up. It is not a question of individual efficiency though those with the newer more dependable rigs have better overall performance. The big fleets however also have the newer generation of diesels. However, they are the first to get thrown out when less freight moves by truck and shifts to the much more fuel efficient railroad.
    The Independents get a lot of media for their sporadic attempts at activism and carry the independent entrepreneur mythos wherever the run. They are popular. They also perform the indispensable roll of strikebreaker and scab when necessary to keep the Teamsters in line. Still, every year UPS hauls more and more of their freight delighting the IBT.
    One of the truly great things about high fuel prices is shifting more freight to the railroads.

  • Not Rex

    I have lots of friends who drive trucks for a living. Truckers are doing the best they can to reduce fuel consumption and emissions, and trucks are necessary because they haul 80 percent of freight. Railroads? Trucking companies are railroads’ biggest and best customers. Trucking companies put intermodal loads on railroads whenever it makes economic sense to do so. But, 80 percent of the communities in the United States don’t have freight rail service. If you would like, try building some new rail routes (not just double or triple tracking the existing). How many of you want a railroad near your home, even if it was physically and financially possible? Sorry, but if your house is near a railroad, there is no “right” side of the tracks. Rex’s comment that “trains get 423 mpg/ton of freight” is bull — he is not counting the hours that trains sit idle, with locomotive engines running, and geting ZERO mpg, to load and unload containers or trailers, to break up and then reform new train units, to wait at switches for Amtrak or faster freights to pass, etc., etc. Ask the railroads if their mpg figure is based on flat level track or track conditions in the real world. Ask the railroads why they haven’t replaced their locomotives with the less polluting locomotives that GE is building now, and why they use diesel that has more polluting sulfur in it than the ultralow sulfur used by almost every truck, and why their locomotives have none of the emissions-reducing equipment that truck engines have. Railroads claim that they will take trucks off the highways and put their freight on railcars, but the truth is railroads turn down freight every day because they think the profit on it is not high enough. Trucks then carry it. Trains are now raising rates on hazardous materials to prohibitive levels. Why? Because that accident in Graniteville leaked chlorine and killed so many people. Liability. Why did the accident happen? Because they kept their workers on duty for almost 24 hours straight and they were too tired to keep track of which switches were in the proper position. Trains can carry a limited amount of freight, and they want that freight to be the highest profit yielding freight possible. That’s why they sell or abandon rail lines and they eliminate stops at certain loading ramps and grain silos. They even take your tax dollars to turn railroads into hiking paths. When they say that they are taking freight off highways and onto railroads to reduce highway congestion, it is a big lie. They claim that they are diverting freight for the public good in order to convince taxpayers to pay for 25 percent of all their track improvements. They are asking congress to give them a 25 percent tax break, worth billions, that will come out of your pocket. Wake up to all the railroads’ lies. Truckers are good people, working hard to make sure you’ve got food in your grocery and medicine in your drug store. Compare the profit margins of railroads to the profit margins of trucking companies. Look at how railroad have monopolies in most areas and how trucking companies are much more competitive with other trucking companies. Shippers have one or two, rarely three railroads to choose from. Shippers have literally tens of thousands of trucking companies willing to compete for their business.

  • Not Rex

    JP, why don’t you tell them the real reason the LA port plan includes the employee provision? Isn’t it that the Teamsters want to organize the drivers, and that the Teamsters donated a fortune to the mayor of Los Angeles’ campign fund to put that requirement in the bill? The Teamsters care less about workers than the amount of dues they can earn, and the mayor cares about the money he gets from the Teamsters. I am sick of unions and politicians playing footsie and making taxpayers foot the bill.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    How many of you want a railroad near your home, even if it was physically and financially possible?

    I do. In fact, I live two blocks from a major interlocking of the largest passenger railroad in the country – which runs freight service at night. I used to live three blocks from the Santa Fe mainline. What’s not to like?

  • Mark Walker

    Not Rex makes a lot of excellent points. We should go into what is undoubtedly going to be a more rail-oriented future with our eyes wide open for corruption, safety violations, and general inefficiency. But these facts remain:

    1) Trucking is less energy efficient than rail. No matter how you slice it.

    2) Truckers receive huge government subsidies via the interstate highway system.

    3) Tractor-trailers beat up roads and bridges, adding to the cost of maintaining and repairing them.

    Face it, guys, peak oil is a reality. One of the results of that will be less freight shipping overall (as the economy shrinks) plus a shift of what remains to rail.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Excellent points maybe, but wrong and skewed at points as well, especially on this blog. What he describes is socialism for trucks where the road bed is picked up by the fuel taxes and state taxes that support and expand the road infrastructure. The railroads on the other hand pay for almost all of their right of way. Sure, eventually it ends up on a truck in most cases.

    Other than that there are a few basic points where he is simply wrong. Take the 80% market concentration. It is actually 60%. Then you factor in the safety numbers. Railroads are exponentially safer, especially for dangerous loads like chemicals and aggregate.

    And need we hear about the problems of those abutting rail right of ways, with cars and trucks running amok on our sidewalks. Taxes pay to insulate the interstates from highway noise but pay nothing along rail right of ways. Socialism for trucks. The higher the price of fuel the more freight will run on rail, mathematics and physics.


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