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Cleaner air is the goal New fuel standards for big trucks will save money, cut greenhouse gases

President Obama’s effort to curb greenhouse gases in another go-it-alone rollout, this time involving the nation’s fleet of heavy-duty trucks, is actually a step in the right direction in the fight against climate change.

The new fuel standards are to be drafted by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department by March 2015 and completed a year later.

The president is doing what he said he would do during last month’s State of the Union address: tackling issues without Congress. He may not have been able to get the comprehensive environmental legislation he sought, but he is intent on winning on a smaller battlefield, although this effort will still face a fight.

The latest limits on greenhouse gas pollutants from trucks would combine with previous rules requiring passenger cars and light trucks to burn fuel more efficiently and pending rules to limit the carbon emissions of power plants. The president’s goal is cutting carbon pollution in the United States by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, although that would be far short of his goal of an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

Getting from here to there won’t be easy, and it will take many small actions. For example, in August the EPA issued rules requiring automakers to double average fleet economy standards for passenger cars to 50.4 miles per gallon by 2025. The administration said doing so would cut carbon pollution from vehicles in half.

The following month, the EPA proposed new rules cutting carbon pollution from future coal-fired power plants, which has effectively frozen construction of new coal plants. The president has ordered the agency to produce by June a draft regulation targeting existing coal plants, which has drawn fire because it could shutter hundreds of facilities.

Environmental advocates caution that the EPA rules will be effective only if they withstand legal and legislative opposition. U.S. car and truck manufacturers have lobbied heavily against aggressive increases in federal fuel economy standards. They say that the standards could increase vehicle prices and diminish safety.

As we’ve seen over the years with opposition to efforts to toughen safety regulations and improve economy, change comes hard. But the payoff for previous rules has been in safer roads and fewer gallons of gas burned.

Moreover, tougher pollution rules for big trucks will help sales in countries already committed to cleaner air. That has begun to happen since the most recent rules were enacted. Some countries the administration has touted as areas of growth are Canada, Australia, Mexico, South Africa, Chile, Nigeria and China.

Raising the fuel efficiency of big trucks will help reduce the demand for imported oil, and save truckers money in the long run as they buy less fuel. Reducing emissions from the big rigs will help the environment.