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Obama Orders Stricter Fuel Efficiency Standards For Big Trucks

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Barack Obama is pictured earlier this week. Photo credit: Whitehouse.gov

Trucks on U.S. roads and highways have long needed an efficiency makeover, and President Barack Obama demanded it Tuesday afternoon in Maryland.

Obama said his administration will issue tougher fuel-efficiency standards for delivery trucks by March 2016, The Associated Press reported. Heavy-duty trucks are only 4 percent of the vehicles on the country's roads, but account for about 20 percent of the greenhouse gases that the transportation sector emits into the air.

"For decades the fuel efficiency standards of our cars and trucks were stuck in neutral," the president said. "We're going to double the distance our cars and light trucks can go on a gallon of gas by 2025."

The 2016 order will empower the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop new standards that should be ready for automakers to incorporate into the 2018 vehicle model year. Obama said investing in research to drive down emissions would make the U.S. less dependent on foreign oil, which preserves consumer funds and reduces greenhouse gas emissions—an effect he dubbed a "win-win-win."

He said that the EPA and Transportation heads would partner with manufacturers, states, truckers and autoworkers to come up with a proposal by March 2015.

"Businesses that buy these types of trucks have sent a clear message to the nearly 30,000 workers who build them:  We want trucks that use less oil, save more money, cut pollution," Obama said.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) was among the organizations that supported the president's plan.

“ACEEE strongly supports the president’s work to continue the improvements in heavy-duty vehicle fuel efficiency initiated through the first phase of standards, adopted in 2011," ACEEE Transportation Program Director Therese Langer said in a statement. "There are major opportunities to further reduce heavy-duty truck fuel consumption while saving truck owners thousands of dollars per year, and the actions announced today will help to ensure that these savings are realized."

So far, 23 companies have joined the National Clean Fleets Partnership, pledging to reduce their oil consumption or replace old truck fleets with more fuel-efficient models. Those companies operate about 1 million commercial vehicles across the country.

"If rivals like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, or UPS and FedEx, or AT&T and Verizon—if they can join together on this, then maybe Democrats and Republicans can do the same," he said.

According to the White House, Obama's first round of fuel efficiency standards for trucks will save $50 billion in fuel costs and 530 million barrels of oil.

Visit EcoWatch’s TRANSPORTATION page for more related news on this topic.

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On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."

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