UPPER MARLBORO — President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will tighten fuel efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks as part of an effort to address greenhouse gas pollution administratively rather than waiting on Congress.
Speaking at a sprawling Safeway distribution center here, Obama said the more aggressive fuel standards — which he said would be in place for 2018 models — would both cut carbon emissions and reduce the nation's reliance on foreign oil.
"Every mile that we gain in fuel efficiency is worth thousands of dollars of savings every year," Obama said. "Improving gas mileage for these trucks [is] going to drive down our oil imports even further. That reduces carbon pollution even more."
He did not say specifically how much emissions would be reduced by the rule. The EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation are to unveil a draft next year.
The announcement follows a pledge Obama made during his State of the Union address last month to develop new efficiency standards for the vehicles for the second time during his administration. An earlier rule, implemented in 2011, cut emissions on the vehicles by roughly 20 percent for the largest vehicles.
The move was praised by several environmental groups that feel reducing vehicle emissions is an important step in dealing with climate change.
"Increasing fuel efficiency for trucks is good for our energy security and our economy, and it will help cut the dangerous carbon pollution that's causing climate disruption and threatening public health," Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement.
Obama's announcement was the latest in a series of efforts to show he won't be hemmed in by a Congress unable to find consensus on how — or whether — to tackle climate change. He recently announced the creation of "climate hubs" that will work with farmers and ranchers to prepare for shifts in conditions. Last week he said he would ask Congress for a $1 billion fund for research into extreme weather.
The vehicles affected by the standards generally weigh more than 10,000 pounds and range from small delivery trucks all the way up to tractor-trailers and city buses. They represent only 4 percent of registered vehicles but account for roughly one-fourth of greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector, according to the White House.
Several trucking industry groups offered a cautious reaction to Obama's plan, saying they looked forward to hearing more details. The Chicago-based Truck & Engine Manufacturers Association said it will closely watch the rule-making process.
Bill Graves, CEO of the Arlington-based American Trucking Associations, said he hopes the administration "will set forth a path that is both based on the best science and research available and economically achievable."
Obama was flanked by a tractor-trailer and several small trucks parked inside a warehouse. He made the announcement at the Safeway distribution center because the company is one of many across the country that have already taken steps to improve the efficiency of their fleets by investing in new, more aerodynamic trucks and more efficient tires.
It's the fourth time Obama has spoken in Maryland in as many weeks. He visited Prince George's County twice to elaborate on the economic policies sounded in his State of the Union address, and he spoke with House Democrats gathered on the Eastern Shore for their annual retreat last week.
Republicans pounced on the administration's decision to visit a Safeway site, noting that a union representing many of the grocer's workers had lobbied against a company proposal to force its employees to purchase health insurance through exchanges set up under the president's health law. The union ultimately signed a contract last year that allowed current employees to keep their company-issued health coverage.
Obama plans to ask Congress to create a $2 billion energy security trust fund to support research and development of more fuel-efficient vehicles. The president made a similar request last year but was rebuffed. Obama will also call on lawmakers to pass a new tax credit aimed at spurring investment in new-vehicle technology and to extend a tax credit for biofuel producers that expired in December.
Tribune Newspapers' Washington bureau contributed to this article.