which means we’ve still got to use fuels to move goods from point A to point B. The United States is the world’s second largest exporter of containerized cargo, American commercial vehicles cover over 3 trillion miles a year delivering more than two-thirds of all commercial goods. In other words, shipping isn’t going away.
Since we rely so heavily on the commercial transport industry, we need to take responsibility for the waste it generates. A 2015 study by the EPA found that 27% of all greenhouse gas emissions produced in the United States are a result of the transportation industry. We have to find a way to cut these emissions down. And to do that, we’ve got to understand their sources.
Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the greenhouse gas emissions generated by the transport industry come in the form of carbon dioxide. Controlling this atmosphere-damaging byproduct of internal-combustion engines has been a point of focus for truck manufacturers since the 1990s, but if operators choose not to use the new equipment, no improvement in emissions will occur.
California, a state that frequently takes the lead on air-quality issues, has set the bar by taking older diesel engines off the road. Owners of 14,000 to 26,000-lb vehicles with engines built before 1995 are required by law to replace them with units that achieve or beat 2010 emissions standards. Soon, vehicles with engines built between 1995 and 2010 will be on the chopping block, and heavier trucks are facing similar regulations.
Other states don’t have such stringent policies though. Outside of California, most states default to the standards set by the Clean Air Act of 1990. The knowledge we’ve gained in over twenty years since that law was passed makes it hard to think we’re doing the best job we can of cleaning up waste from engines built before emissions were even a concern.
Commercial vehicles that cross hundreds of thousands of miles in a year don’t just create waste in the form of greenhouse emissions, though. Each one of these vehicles must be maintained. Maintenance and upkeep for a fleet of ships, trucks or planes can take a serious toll on the environment when you consider the scale of our transportation industry.
Fleet trucks require new tires roughly every 40,000 miles, and each truck has 22 of them. Fresh grease and oil must be applied at regular intervals to keep fleets on the road, and it takes 13,000 liters of water to scrub down the jumbo jet that hauls your mail.
Many of these waste materials, such as the coolant from fleet truck diesel engines, are considered hazardous. Making space for these materials and handling them responsibly can be expensive, but some companies are moving away from these outdated practices.
The EPA has clearly-defined standards for handling hazardous materials. For example, greywater laws define how to dispose of water used to clean industrial equipment. But sometimes, companies break the rules.
Waste and fraud in the industry
Whether it’s by accident or intentionally, failing to comply with regulations can have serious consequences. Examples of mismanagement and shady business practices occur in the transportation industry all too often.
Since the shipping and transportation industry is so dependent on oil and gas, the waste that those industries create falls back on transportation companies. And we all know that those companies create a lot of fraud and waste. Shell Oil had to pay $4 million to the state of Massachusetts recently to clear accusations that it took money from a fund established to help clean up gas stations that were environmentally contaminated.
Sea Star Line LLC and Horizon Lines LLC, two ocean-going transportation companies, settled a similar suit to the tune of $3.4 million after they were caught fixing the price of government cargo transportation contracts. The contracts controlled shipping business between the continental United States and Puerto Rico, so it’s not surprising the government got involved.
Whether it’s by accident or intentionally, failing to comply with regulations can have serious consequences. Shouldn’t these companies want to comply ethically? It’s beneficial to them, as well as to the environment.
Responsible commercial transportation is a must
We know how to make vehicles more environmentally friendly. Consumer automakers have demonstrated that. While advancements like clean diesel might not be as groundbreaking at the consumer level as they are for commercial businesses, markets and government regulations have fostered the creation of useful new technologies.
We also know how to handle the byproducts of commercial transportation. In the early 1990s, the United States closed thousands of landfills and consolidated waste management efforts to bring down ancillary costs, but we’re still a long way from where we need to be.
We can’t afford to continue giving transportation companies a pass when they pollute irresponsibly.
Asking consumers to make changes is helpful, but a look at the numbers reveals that the real gains to be made are in the commercial industry. If we use the tools and techniques we already have and stand by our regulations we can continue to enjoy all the benefits the transportation industry brings us.
This is a guest post written by Kate Harveston.
Kate Harveston is a freelance writer and blogger. Her writing focuses on politics and the environment, with a particular emphasis on social change. You can follow her writing by visiting her blog, Only Slightly Biased.