Taking his State of the Union (SOTU) message from last month on the road, President Obama visited a Safeway distribution center in Upper Marlboro, MD, where he called on the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation to develop fuel-efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for trucks and other heavier vehicles by March 2016.

During the SOTU late last month (see Daily GPI, Jan. 29), Obama called on Congress to do its part “by putting people to work building fueling stations that shift more cars and trucks from foreign oil to American natural gas.”

As part of the Energy Security Trust proposal, Obama said a $2 billion investment in a range of cost-effective technologies -- like advanced vehicles that run on electricity, homegrown biofuels, hydrogen, and domestically produced natural gas -- will be drawn from revenues generated from federal oil and gas development. The President had previously announced $200 million in a new tax credit to catalyze investment in the necessary infrastructure to support deployment of advanced vehicles at critical mass. This proposal would be fuel neutral, allowing the private sector to determine if biofuels, electrification, natural gas, hydrogen, or other alternative fuels would be the best fit in different communities.

On Tuesday Obama laid out additional details for his plan to improve the fuel efficiency of American trucks -- bolstering energy security, cutting carbon pollution, and spurring manufacturing innovation.

“President Obama has continued to demonstrate his support for the role of natural gas in a clean energy future,” American Gas Association (AGA) CEO Dave McCurdy said Tuesday. “Two years ago, the President released standards for cars and light-duty trucks that broadened the application of manufacturers’ incentives for vehicles that run on alternative fuels to include natural gas. Natural gas vehicles will play [a] major role in helping to improve our environment and our national security, and provide real, long-term savings to consumers, and we’re pleased to see his focus on the use of natural gas for the heavy-duty sector.”

On a well-to-wheels basis, the AGA noted that natural gas vehicles produce 20% to 30% lower emissions at the tailpipe than a similar diesel or gasoline-powered vehicles, adding that they emit much less particulate matter and volatile organic compounds than gasoline or diesel. Compressed natural gas (CNG) costs about 50% less than gasoline, and about 60% less than diesel, the association said.

“The president highlighted how leaders in every sector of our economy are embracing natural gas because it offers real savings, real stimulus and real solutions. Supporting this evolution, natural gas utilities have contributed to a 60% growth in our national CNG refueling infrastructure since 2009,” McCurdy said.

The American Gas Foundation and IHS CERA recently released a study entitled Fueling the Future with Natural Gas: Bringing it Home (see Daily GPI, Jan. 16), which found that for Class 8 vehicles such as 18 wheelers, the fuel savings from switching to natural gas is significant enough that the extra upfront cost of approximately $40,000 is recuperated in less than two years. A natural gas passenger vehicle will save you an average of $4,500 in fuel costs over five years compared to a gasoline vehicle according to the same study.

Cummins Inc. applauded the president's initiative. "Cummins supports standards that deliver environmental benefits and help our customers in the form of increased fuel efficiency and cost savings," said Rich Freeland, Cummins vice president and president, Engine Business. "The first phase of these regulations provides a strong foundation that recognizes the needs of business while offering clear direction to create innovative technologies. With the announcement today, it is clear that the government will again take a collaborative approach. We look forward to working with regulators, our customers and others on the next phase of standards that will lead to even greater reductions in greenhouse gases and fuel consumption."