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The "Three Amigos" Get it Right by Pledging to Work on Transportation and Climate at the North American Leaders Summit

Amanda Maxwell

Posted February 20, 2014

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At the North American Leaders Summit in Toluca, Mexico yesterday, U.S. President Obama, Mexican President Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister announced a series of actions they will take in the coming months and years to address economic growth, trade, energy, climate, education, innovation and security in the three countries. Importantly, that list included the commitment to high standards for fuel quality, heavy duty vehicle efficiency and vehicle emissions throughout North America.* Canada and the U.S. have already adopted such standards, and if Mexico follows suit –which this announcement pledges—this will be a major win that could bring environmental, health and economic benefits for millions of people in the region.

Why is this so important? To start, the air pollution from heavy and light duty vehicles in Mexico is a serious problem: it damages the environment, harms people’s health, exacerbates climate change, and separates Mexico’s fleet of vehicles from its northern neighbors. Diesel exhaust is particularly toxic to people: the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified black carbon and particulate matter—both by-products of diesel combustion—as well as outdoor air pollution in general as carcinogens. In 2010 the World Health Organization reported that 14,700 people died in Mexico from outdoor air pollution.

Black carbon is also the second most powerful contributor to climate change (behind carbon dioxide), so reducing black carbon emissions is critical to helping mitigate climate change, which often manifests as the extreme weather events we have seen so much of in the past few years.

Mexico is a global player in the manufacturing of heavy and light duty vehicles, and it exports many of them to the U.S. and Canada. In 2013, more than 56 percent of the cars made in Mexico went to the U.S. and almost 22 percent went to Canada. Daimler Trucks, which has 48 percent of the market of the heavy duty trucks made in Mexico, exports 90 percent of its trucks abroad. Yet the trucks that stay in Mexico for domestic sale have to be built according to lesser standards. Consequently “a new heavy-duty vehicle sold in Mexico has 200 times higher emissions of black carbon, 80 times higher emissions of NOx (a critical precursor for ozone smog), and 40 times higher emissions” of particulate matter than those that go to the U.S., according to Kate Blumberg at the ICCT.

By harmonizing its fuel and vehicle standards with the rest of the region, Mexico’s government could see that all of these vehicles could be built according to the same standards, and goods and services could flow more freely to and from our markets – making it a significant issue for a high-level trilateral meeting like the one in Toluca yesterday.

Mexico has been working for years on adopting and implementing standards that require the use of cleaner fuels and that regulate the efficiency of and emissions from vehicles. Yet to date, there has not been any real success. If this trilateral commitment can speed up Mexico’s adoption and implementation of standards for cleaner fuels and vehicles, these three leaders can count it as a major mutual success – a success that will bring benefits to millions of people throughout the region.

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*Other relevant commitments included on the list of action items from the North American Leaders Summit include:

  • Creating a North American Transportation Plan, starting with freight planning.
  • Holding a North American Energy Ministers Meeting in 2014 in order to define areas for strong trilateral cooperation on energy.
  • Supporting efforts to reinvigorate the Commission for Environmental Cooperation.
  • Continue trilateral work under the Montreal Protocol to phase down HFC production and consumption.
  • Continuing trilateral coordination in the Climate and Clean Air Coalition.
  • Declaring North American adherence to high standards in fuel quality, emissions standards, and fuel efficiency for heavy-duty vehicles.

Source: White House Fact Sheet: Key Deliverables for the 2014 North American Leaders Summit

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Peter CrownfieldFeb 21 2014 07:11 AM

You say that 'Canada and the U.S. have already adopted such standards...', but U.S. emission standards are weak.

+ The higher vehicle standards allow the automakers to continue to push large sedans, SUVs, and other gas-guzzling vehicles that are considered separately in evaluating overall fleet efficiency.

+ While a few states regulate idling, many do not -- or have standards that are too loose and not enforced.

+ Meanwhile, the EPA dropped its important program for retrofitting Diesel engines with particulate filters and exhaust-recirculation systems to reduce PM2.5 from on-road vehicles. Among the worst offenders are school buses, which envelope young children in toxic fumes as the board and depart the buses.

+ Any improvements in regulating off-road equipment won't show up for years, because this equipment typically has a long service life -- and this equipment is also often allowed to idle for long periods of time.

+ Most railroads still do not use idle-reduction technology that can reduce emissions dramatically.

In addition to vehicle emissions, home heating, especially in the northeast, produces thousands of tons of PM2.5 [+ Sox emissions that also produce PM2.5] and the sulfur content is not regulated in most states.

All things considered, I would say the U.S. is doing a very poor job of reducing these emissions.

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